Your Farm’s Data Legacy: Why It Matters

Farmstead ( File Photo )

Building trust in food begins with empowering farmers through one of the largest and most diverse conservation- and sustainability-focused public-private partnerships in our nation’s history: America’s Conservation Ag Movement. To find the latest news and resources related to the Movement, visit

This article was written by Kinsie Rayburn, Conservation Knowledge Officer, Trust In Food. Learn more at:

You’ve worked hard to keep your farm running and make the right decisions and, one day, your work will be done and the next farmer will take it from there, building on the legacy you leave behind.

When you think of your operation’s legacy,  many things probably come to mind: smiling kids and grandkids, a flush bank account, maybe even those acres down the road you have been eyeing for a while now.

What might not come to mind, but is critically important to documenting your farm legacy, is your farm’s production and management data--that spreadsheet of numbers or the sun-bleached notebook on your dashboard filled with notes and numbers.

However, we aren't just talking tax or bank documents here, we’re talking about your operation’s nutrient pest management plans, weed-control measures, seed varieties, tillage and planting practices, harvest yields, weather and application dates, etc. All of these will be of vital importance to the next generation of your operation, especially as equipment and biotech become more sophisticated.

Farm Journal’s Trust In Food initiative and The Sustainability Consortium partnered together in early 2020 to undertake a first-of-its-kind research program to understand farmers’ perspectives on the collection and sharing of farm-level production and management data. The goal of the anonymous survey, answered by nearly 400 farmers from more than 40 states, was to learn more about farmers’ relationship with data and to tell their side of the data story.

Our research found that around 60% of the farmers who responded did not use farm data management software in 2019. Around 75% of farmers said they store most (if not all) of their farm’s data on paper, rather than via a technology solution like a computer program.

When asked about the major reasons for using the conservation practices they do, 60% of farmers said that the farm’s legacy and ensuring a profitable and viable operation is passed down is a primary concern.

As business owners, it is imperative that farmers recognize economic benefits from the practices they implement. However, economics are only part of the benefit package that is built into conservation agriculture practices and farm management data collection.

Farm management data helps farmers test new practices, measure change, inform decisions,  increase the precision and efficiency they manage their farm with, tell their stewardship story and pass on that information to the next generation. On top of that, each year a farmer collects data, the value of that data increases.

The records a farmer keeps matter just as much to them as they do to the farmer who takes over after them. Data passed on to the next generation can inform them on what has been tried, what succeeded and what failed. This gives the next generation a leg up as a farmer because they might not need to try to grow corn in those bottom 10 acres that are too wet, because the farm records identify those acres as ones with low productivity.

This can free up the future generation to try new approaches or decide to retire those acres into a conservation buffer area, pollinator habitat, or conservation reserve, because the data helped them make informed decisions about the best path forward for their farm operation.

If your farm data management approach is mostly on paper today, consider transferring this year’s farm records to a program you already have on your computer. A blank document or spreadsheet works fine for starters. If you already have a mix of digital and paper records, consider transferring this year’s data to a program. Additionally, if you don’t feel like a spreadsheet is an adequate way to keep your data, there are several farm data management software programs available that can meet your needs.

If you are curious about some of the farm data management options available, talk to the farmers, ag retailers, and advisors in your farm network to get an idea of the options they use. You can also go online and do a quick internet search to get familiar with the data software management options available and their capabilities.