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Why We Put a Fence Around Our Farm Data

Editor’s Note: This post was contributed by David Seba, a grower in Cleveland, MO. In partnership with his brother, Harold, Seba Bros. Farms, Inc., produces commercial and food grade grains and forage crops. The Seba’s farming and land management philosophy is built on collaboration, stewardship, conservation and deploying the latest technologies in farm data, precision ag and seed genetics.

If you had asked my brother, Harold, and I about our digital strategy five years ago we would’ve said, “We have one; we just aren’t sure what it is.”

The truth is we collected a lot of data over the years, but never felt confident about either the data’s integrity or the platform that was collecting it. With our equipment manufacturers, it seems like it was more about buying additional hardware than getting us better, more complete data.

It seems the major manufacturers get on the hardware train, but never get you to your destination. That is, they require you to buy the next, newest technology that keeps extending your trip. So, you never really arrive with one digital strategy. All the while, you end up collecting data for them that doesn’t bring value back to your farm.

(Left to right) Brian Kurz, David Seba and Blake Seba

Fast forward to today

Due to new digital technology that allows us to collect and share a complete set of field data in real-time, we’re literally putting a virtual fence around our farming data. And it’s a really good feeling.

Why is harnessing data so important to our farm operation? Two big reasons: 1) it’s our data, we own it; and 2) controlling our data allows us to create our own income stream.

Better data = better decision-making

Whether we’re planting, spraying or harvesting, we use a new digital system from a company called Farmobile to gather machine and field data in a single platform that is contained within field boundaries. While our equipment is operating, the data is beamed up every second and attached to every field’s Electronic Field Record. This can be viewed any time, any place via mobile device.

We’re looking at doing so many different things with this data — better management of fields, machinery, and people.

It’s a huge deal to have our data gathered on the same type of platform, putting a fence around it, and being able to have it as a potential income stream.

Farming has always been challenging. But it’s so incredibly competitive today. You need to know your costs. You can’t shoot from the hip. You need to know if a given process, input or management practice is more efficient or more profitable than another — then you have to communicate those facts to your team.

The business of farming is full of intangibles (weather, global economy, commodity prices, etc.). The more facts and data you collect, the fewer “what if’s” you have to deal with, and the better decisions you can make.

Here are just a few ways our digital strategy is changing the way we operate.

Operational efficiency

Our ability to collect data truly does help us better manage efficiencies. From a mobile dashboard, my brother and I can remotely monitor what’s happening in the field. In real time, we can assess task efficiency, manpower and fuel hours, input application, all kinds of things.

As an example: Like all farmers, we try to manage as many acres as we can with the fewest machines. The data showed that — during harvest — we were losing valuable daylight run-time while operators waited for the service team to finish refueling and maintaining machines. We rescheduled the service teams to be in the fields earlier so machines would be ready to go when the operators arrived. This one small change bought us 1 to 2 hours of additional daylight time. It increased harvest machine run-time from 92% to 98% of the prime work day.

Little adjustments that open up an hour and a half a day of harvesting time makes a difference in cost, time, yield and quality.

Labor management

Just having the ability to remotely monitor our team is probably one of the biggest assets. We can monitor multiple machines, operations and operators at the same time. Is somebody more efficient than another? Does the staff need more training? Is an operator close to needing fuel? Gathering and then using this kind of data to benefit our team and farming operation is unlimited.

Assessing field profitability

Everybody talks about seed, chemical and fertilizer as keys to profitability. Those are the have-to’s. But how are time, equipment and people resources affecting the profitability of a field? Our digital strategy allows us to look at the complete field data from planting to harvest and make some observations that we would have missed otherwise. For the first time we could actually say, “Wow, here’s a field that we didn’t think did as well, but we made a lot more money per acre because we did less activity there.” As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure it. It’s true.

Sharing data

Just the ability to electronically share our data in real-time with our agronomist and team is a time-saver and stress-reducer. For instance, we’ve got an operator who regularly talks to the agronomist while he’s in the field. Basically, via the dashboard, the agronomist can remotely monitor the field work and send input and application changes to the operator. Our data system virtually brings the field to whoever the expert is, wherever they’re at. And the quality of the data means our agronomist can give us better prescriptive solutions.

These are only some of the benefits of having a data strategy. Without a doubt, we’ve only just begun to realize how the information being collected will benefit our business.

My data, my asset, my income

There are tangible benefits today, but we’re only just getting started. In the future, I think there’ll be a place on everybody’s farm balance sheet that will say ‘data income’. And I believe that’s the way it should be. Farmers who own their data and can sell it — on their own terms — will change the face of agriculture.

Today, all ag suppliers and manufacturers, which support farmers, are currently collecting and profiting from farm data. That’s a proven fact. The questions needs to be asked, ‘who is supporting whom?’

Big ag has been collecting our data for so long, that there’s this attitude that the way we farm carries no value. Well, it does. For farmers, the field is our business and the way we manage it is our formula for success. So, why is it okay for someone else to claim and sell it?

We have to change that.

Farmers need to have a digital strategy that puts a fence around their data. Data should be an income stream, the same as any crop. Farmers are doing the work. It’s their data — their formula for farming. Farmers need to control it, and, if it gets sold, profit.

Harold and I are confident we’re on the right path.

Our farms’ digital assets are part of our legacy, tied to the land forever. I’m proud of that.

Literally, by collecting and attaching a complete set of data to every one of our field acres, we are transferring our farming know-how to the next generation. It isn’t guesswork. It’s fact-based data. They’ll know exactly what was successful and what wasn’t on each field.

With every data set collected, we are transferring wisdom. That’s more than a digital strategy. That’s our farm’s legacy.

Why We Put a Fence Around Our Farm Data was originally published in The Dirt on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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