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Agronomic Data Collection of Tomorrow – Farmers Take Control Over Data

Data is the basis for strategic decisions on farms today. Behind every seed variety, biological stimulant, and fertilizer, there is data to showcase the different opportunities and outcomes of these products within an operation. Research has been a priority for multiple generations, showcasing the reliance on data to help provide insights and guidance in decision making for farmers and retailers each and every day.

Within agriculture, there are two types of data collection and research commonly used: private and public. Private research consisting of input retailers and product manufacturers who evaluate the effectiveness of their new products and services. The second type of research is public which consists of universities and government-funded programs conducting research with an effort to disseminate that information through university extension and published in publications and journals.

There is an emerging market for research and data collection: on-farm trials. On-farm trials allow farmers to test new products and production methods within their own operation, soil types, weather climate, and management practices. On-farm trials allow for customizable data uniquely specific to growers and their operations. Beginning in 2017, AFREC funded Minnesota Crop Production Retailers (MCPR) and Matt Wiebers, an independent agronomist to conduct on-farm trials in corn across the state of Minnesota. Utilizing precision ag data that many farmers are already recording the trials were implemented into the farmer’s existing fertility plan and required minimal extra work and time for the farmer and his/her advisor.

“Farmers are looking to their agronomists for help in using this data to make informed decisions for improving their efficiency and profitability,” remarks Matt Wiebers. “They also know that the end use consumer and government both are asking for more transparency and information in how their food is being grown.”

There were 48 trial locations evaluated for the 2018 crop year. Corn was selected as the crop due to the amount of fertilizer required, and that corn is one of the primary crops grown in the state. The following data was collected from each of the sites:

  • As-applied data from the application of nitrogen by the retailer or farmer
  • Yield monitor data from the combine
  • Aerial photography collected in-season
  • Cropping history such as tillage practices and rotation
  • Residual soil test nitrate after harvest (on 10 of the trial sites)

In conjunction to the data listed above, Wiebers also gathered the following data from public sources. These metrics allowed for Wiebers to evaluate the data he was receiving from his tests against other factors that were present at each trial location which may account for different trends and insights from the data.

  • Soil type and texture
  • Precipitation
  • Slope

The data from each trial was shared with the grower in January and February of 2019.  The final report will be summarized and shared publicly after the 2019 crop year and provide two years of data. Wiebers is currently conducting 29 more trials for the 2019 crop year, expanding to include the following trials:

  • Nitrogen rate response
  • Sulfur rate response
  • Potassium rate response
  • High yield management practices

One of the biggest advantages to on-farm research is the ability to conduct research across state lines and many different locations to study different soil types, weather patterns, and management practices. Properly designed on-farm trials can provide statistically significant results and data, to help farmers and policy makers improve their decisions based on data The more data collected from various industries, whether private, public, or third-party research will allow for farmers to continue to make their operations more sustainable and efficient while maintaining productive soil fertility.

Weston Wander, seed salesman and retailer of G & B Sales and Service out of Sauk Centre, Minnesota has worked closely with Wiebers having helped conduct a few on-farm trials. He speaks to the advantages of on-farm research for farmers.

“On-farm research really helps farmers validate that they are making the correct decisions for their operations. Fine tuning management practices with on-farm research helps pinpoint efficiency of inputs to help maximize economic return.”

Each farm is unique. On-farm trials allow for customizable data for farmers to make more informed decisions on various management tools and practices as it pertains to their personal operations. As we continue to look at data collection as a whole, AFREC finds it a priority to continue to support research. Our goal is to enhance soil fertility insights and we will continue to fund research to provide that opportunity.

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