This article was written by Kinsie Rayburn, Conservation Knowledge Officer for Trust In Food. Learn more at trustinfood.com.
Farming is expensive, and it’s unlikely to get cheaper. Everything comes with a price tag. Land, inputs, sensors, equipment and software all have associated costs. While an upfront investment in increasing the technology you use on your farm operation is required, that investment can pay off.
The economic benefit of capturing and using farm data usually comes in the form of increased farm efficiency — saving time and money while maintaining or improving profitability and productivity. Using your own data, you can identify less productive crop zones, vary application rates, optimize input costs, capture in-field moisture and nutrient levels and increase precision. Those field-level data points, when combined with your experience and knowledge of the land, result in a deeper understanding of each piece of your farm operation.
Here are some ways you can optimize expenses and increase the efficiency and profitability of your farm operation through collecting your own farm-level data and putting it to use:
Capital allocation decisions
Each year, you review the economic aspects of your farm operation and make decisions to optimize your business. You probably ask yourself questions like: What did I make this year? What did it cost me per acre to make that? Is that new piece of equipment paying off? Should I switch next year and try a new seed variety or stick with what I did this year?
Answering those questions with farm data helps you visualize the performance of your operation and allows you to test out alternative scenarios. Having all of that data from this year and years past also helps you make more informed decisions about how you invest in your farm.
Researchers have found precision ag technology and data collection help farmers:
• Save 35% to 40% on nitrogen applications.1
• Reduce irrigation needs by 10% to 15%.1
Talk to lenders
Most farmers have taken out a loan at some point for their operation, such as financing new purchases or buying land — whatever they needed to improve their business. However, to be approved for a loan a lot of information is needed. Sometimes, proof is needed. Collecting farm data doesn’t just help you make decisions, it helps you prove that the decision you are making is worthwhile — to yourself, to your partners or to the bank.
Access new markets
The call for increased transparency into how agricultural goods are produced is getting louder. By collecting your own data in one place, you are preparing your operation for the possibility that buyers will require more information on production practices and input use. Collecting data now puts you ahead of the curve.
The bottom line is that simply collecting data does not provide a return on investment. Instead, you need to be able to put that data to work. You can do this by increasing data collection and using that information to improve your plans, analyze decisions and capture proof points.
This article is the second in a three-part series about the direct farmer benefits of capturing and using farm-level data. The first article, The Benefits of Data: An Overview, covers some general benefits of farm-level data collection such as profit mapping and input modeling and is available here:
The third article covers the Legacy Benefits of Data and will be made available to you on AgWeb the last week of September.
The insights in this article are based on original Trust In Food research conducted in spring 2020 in collaboration with Syngenta. The research focused on farmer perspectives about conservation agricultural practices. Trust In Food and Syngenta thank the farmers who participated in the study and are hopeful the information can help U.S. farmers continue to run profitable, efficient and sustainable operations.
 Stubbs, M. (2016) Irrigation in U.S. Agriculture: On-Farm Technologies and Best Management Practices. Congressional Research Service. http://nationalaglawcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/assets/crs/R44158.pdf