Aggregating data and big data

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Aggregating data basically is referring to using “big data” and is the future of precision agriculture according to agricultural information specialists.

Terry Griffin, Ph.D., vice-president applied economics for Cresco Ag, Memphis “Data has no value; it has zero value … If the data has been applied in some manner then it is information. That is a distinction that I want to make … We turn data into information then knowledge and finally value,” said Terry Griffin, Ph.D., vice-president applied economics for Cresco Ag, Memphis, an independent information management company. He made the comment during this year’s InfoAg precision ag conference.

Over the years, there have been gaps in converting data into useable information—gaps in converting data into farm management decisions. But today, according to Griffin, hardware and software limitations “for the most part have gone away with the gap having been largely filled.”


Now the emphasis is transitioning to taking that data and doing more with it. It is 15 years into precision ag, and we now have the potential to have big data for solutions to questions and making recommendations to farmers, said Dan Frieberg, owner of Premier Crop Systems, West Des Moines, Iowa

Dan Frieberg, owner of Premier Crop Systems, West Des Moines, Iowa “Maps are a wonderful way to visualize data. The real power is the data file underneath all the maps and the ability to organize everything into a database structure beyond what you can visualize,” Frieberg said. The map isn’t the goal, but information for decision making is the goal, he explained.

There are interactions going on in every field that can better be understood with the analysis capabilities of today.  Frieberg suggested that 30,000 observations or data points could influence final yield and be collected per year from 3,000 acres of farm ground.

“How much information do you need to make decisions? But more importantly, how much management skill do you need to make the best decisions?” said Griffin.

Data overwhelms people, but third-party specialists are progressing in their ability to assist farmers. It just means that farmers have to share their data in a wider universe to gain the knowledge from aggregated data.


Sharing data will proceed fast if consultants and ag precision specialists convince their clients and potential clients that sharing data makes life and precision farming easier.

“The adoption rates are better for things that make life easier or life better than things that simply let us have an enhanced ability to manage data,” Griffin said. The example is equipment guidance being quickly adopted by many farmers but not until the last couple years worrying whether their yield monitor was properly calibrated.

The more people who participate in a system the higher the return value possible. Each individual farmer knows a lot about his own fields and more than any other fields in the county, state or region, but a composite of all that in-depth data can lead to new insight for each farmer participating.

But what is still a consideration is that 100 farmers could look at data and come to their own interpretation. And there is need for a local knowledge of how aggregated data might fit each farming operation.

The precision ag farmer needs a competent information data analyst and/or crop specialist for interpretation of big data. It is a growing belief that farmers need to share data so that it can be analyzed in conjunction with many other farmers’ data, university research data, Department of Agriculture data, weather records data and numerous other sources.

Data has potential value but not much if it is stored on one farmer’s computer hard drive or in a file cabinet. Griffin said, “When we process data and analyze it into information, communicate the findings and turn the intelligence gained into actions, then it has value.”

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