002: Grower’s Experience with Farm Analytics

farm data

agronomics and economics

Today we are talking about a grower’s experience with farm analytics and precision ag. We are joined by Aaron Seifert, Business Development Manager for Premier Crop Systems.

About Aaron: Aaron is a lifelong farm kid from Southern Minnesota. His family has livestock as well as a row crop operation. As a Business Development Manager for Premier Crop Systems, Aaron has the opportunity to help many different farming operations with precision ag. Aaron’s career history has been in the hardware side of precision ag, where he has worked with third-party hardware applications, and has now shifted to the software side.

In this episode we cover:

  • Misconceptions about Data Analytics
  • Cutting Inputs With Tight Margins
  • Analyzing Good and Bad Spots in the Field
  • The Evolution of Data and Farm Analytics over the Last 100 years
  • Improving Yields Using Historical Data
  • How Premier Crop Differentiates Through Advising

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Agriculture Through the Years

My grandpa turns 91 years old this spring. He has farmed for 75 years, and retired last fall. I can’t help but think of all the changes he’s seen in agriculture during his lifetime. The changes from equipment to genetics, chemistry, and technology seem almost endless. Though he’s made numerous advancements in his operation, change didn’t always come easily. When I was selling hardware, I thought auto-steer would be a great addition for him. I think his exact words were “If you can’t drive straight, you shouldn’t be farming!” He eventually adapted, but it’s not easy to let go of the wheel when you’ve driven for that many years. He started farming with horses, and now he runs a 500 horsepower QuadTrac steered by satellites.

Since the beginning of agriculture, farmers have always had to be analytical. It is impossible to survive in any industry without gaining an understanding of inputs and outputs. This usually involves some visual observations, measurements, and then potential adjustments. The amount of data we create as we farm, the speed at which we can do it, and the relationships and variables we can account for are some of the biggest advancements we’ve made since my grandpa started farming.

How Do We Use Farm Analytics?

All the different pieces of data we gather and create are independently important. They give us an idea of what may be going on in any given part of a field. However, it’s not until you bring all those layers together and let the technology crunch through it that you see the value. The value is in the relationships.

At Premier Crop, we go further than just analyze where the good spots and the bad spots are in the fields. We use soil samples, as-applied data, farming practices, weather, and much more to see exactly what the yield-limiting and profit-limiting factors are in each of those areas. By assigning cost and distributing it spatially, we see the economic impact of each input decision. We know variability exists, and we believe that all yield is not created equal. So, we understand that in different parts of the field, it takes different things to maximize a grower’s investment. Producing yield efficiently is our overall goal. Our system is designed to help growers make every input dollar matter more.

By utilizing Premier Crop, growers can use a software system to better understand what’s going on in a field. Growers also have the opportunity to work with an agronomic advisor. Our advisors work with growers to determine the areas where they should be aggressive. They also help manage risk when making agronomic and economic decisions. Ultimately, nobody knows a particular field better than the grower does. An algorithm doesn’t have all the answers. Being able to have that conversation and help enhance the software through shared learning with the grower is key.

Tying Agronomics to Economics

In the graph below, you can see a grower’s yield and Yield Efficiency in a particular field compared to his other corn fields. You are also able to see how each individual input decision contributed to the overall Yield Efficiency. Each area can be broken down further to better understand the impact.

farm analytics

The farm analytics are impressive, but sometimes there’s a false perception that the analytics are the only answer. In many cases, the farm analytics can lead to many questions such as:

  • How can I take advantage of the best parts of each field?
  • Can you help me manage risk in the poorer parts of my fields?
  • What are some ways I can limit poor economic decision making?

Ultimately, if you’re not really looking through your data, you end up guessing. Sometimes you might be right, but more often than not, guessing isn’t going to get you any better returns. How many dollars do you leave on the table by guessing? The numbers we see are significant. Knowing the impact of each dollar based on your own data gives you the power to make better decisions, and take advantage of different market environments.

Using Data and Analytics to Make Decisions

What it really boils down to is: how are you using your data as you farm? How are you using the data to make more confident, profitable decisions? Tie dollars to agronomics and make sure you’re producing yield as efficiently as possible. You spend hundreds of dollars on input costs per acre. Wouldn’t you sleep better at night knowing you have the right product and right rate for each part of every field?

My grandpa was able to farm for all those years because he adapted to change, took calculated risks, and analyzed the results. The concepts are still true today even though the operations are larger and the technology is more advanced. The growers who continually look for ways to improve and who understand the economic impact of each decision will be the most successful and able to weather the storms and changes over the next 75 years.


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001: Does Variable Rate Seeding Pay?

tractor planting

Today we are joined by Mike Manning (aka @datamanning on Twitter) to discuss variable rate seeding in precision ag.

Mike is an agronomic information advisor in the state of Nebraska. He’s a western Nebraska farm kid from the panhandle with a wide range of precision and agronomic experience. Mike has been working closely with growers throughout most of Nebraska for the last eight years.

In this episode we cover:

Laying the Foundation for your Growing Season

As the calendar turns to April, and the planting season nears, many producers are finalizing planting plans. Your planting operation (hybrid and variety selection, seeding rate decisions, and the execution of it all) will lay a critical foundation for your growing season.

Of all the fieldwork we do in a given year, planting is one operation we only have one chance to get right (assuming you’re not a fan of replanting). Above all, one of the most important decisions growers can make is determining the best seeding rate for each of your hybrids and varieties. Aside from properly setting up and configuring the planter itself, that is.

Historically, seed selection and seeding rate decisions have been based on a wide variety of available resources. These include seed plot data, ag retailer/coop trials (often in conjunction with major seed suppliers), seed advisors, and ‘neighbor input’, as well as a variety of seed company rate calculators available online. While a diverse selection of resources are available, how do you know if these seeding rates are actually suitable for your farm?

In 2005, as GPS-based variable rate planting entered the equipment market, Premier Crop introduced the Learning Block™ concept. Learning Blocks are  2 – 4 acre blocks placed in specific areas of the field (unlike strip-trials), giving growers and advisors the opportunity to test and verify responses to different seeding (and/or fertility) rates in a low-risk, easily executable experiment (IE +/- 3,000 seeds/acre). Combined with Management Zone based VR seeding, these Learning BlockTM trials opened the door for growers to measure and build their own population response datasets on their own farm. Importantly, Learning Blocks, also provided insight as to where those population changes should take place within the field.

Enhanced Learning Blocks (ELBs)

In 2016, Premier Crop Systems unveiled a new tool called Enhanced Learning Block™ (ELBs)*. Building upon the traditional Learning Blocks concept, ELBs allow for testing multiple rates within the same block, all while incorporating the hallmarks of traditional experimental design; randomization and replication. These randomized and replicated trials increase confidence in the trial results, which ultimately guide better decisions. Perhaps most important, growers and advisors can execute research quality trials, with their own equipment, and within each of their own fields.

So, how important is knowing the right seeding rate? Does it really produce any more yield? Does it really save me any money? Am I any more efficient than I was before? The examples below illustrate the importance of determining, and knowing, the right seeding rate for each hybrid and variety on your farm.

In this field, we have two ELBs, each testing four populations, and replicated 5 times within each block.  By comparing the target rates to the as-planted rates, the equipment is very capable of executing the trials.

variable seeding example

Reviewing the post-harvest analysis below, we instantly see the seeding rate had a significant impact on yield (for this particular hybrid, in this particular geography).

So, does seeding rate impact yield? The yield difference from 32,000 seeds/acre to 35,000 seeds/acre is 11 bushels/acre!

trial variable seeding rate

yield planting population whisker chart



Variable Rate Seeding Dollars and Cents

Accounting for seed cost, and using $3.50/bu grain price, knowing to plant this hybrid at 35,000 seeds/acre v. 32,000 seeds/acre is a $29/acre decision!

38,000 seeds/acre is technically the winner in this trial. However, is the additional seed investment risk (3,000 seeds @ ~$9.40/acre), worth the relatively modest gain?

Also, we see that pushing too far, to 41,000 seeds/acre, results in ~$35/acre loss compared to 35,000 or 38,000 seeds/acre.

trial seeding rate

yield data whisker chart

The examples I’m discussing come from an irrigated Nebraska corn and soybean operation that has successfully executed over 175 ELB trials since 2016. In this case, the grower likely has more research quality, hybrid specific population response data, generated from their own fields, than the seed companies.

You can start building your own knowledge base for your own farm by incorporating Enhanced Learning Blocks™, and working with a trusted Premier Crop Partner, or Premier Crop Agronomic Advisor.  Aggregating your own ELB results can take your on-farm knowledge to the next level.

hybrid population response

Contact Premier Crop to test your seeding rates and get started with variable rate seeding. Our agronomic information advisors can help you build own ELBs in your own fields.

NOTE: *ELBs can go anywhere! They are not region specific. Our Partners and Advisors have placed over 3,000 ELBs the last two years in the US and Canada. ELBs can be used to test a wide variety of products including Fertilizer, Crop Protection, and Seed through a variety of application methods.

    • Dry Fertilizer Applicator
    • Planter
      • In-Furrow and starter – multiple rates or on/off
    • PRE and POST fertility
      • Sprayer, strip-till, coulter bars, drop nozzles etc.
    • Crop Protection – Ground Applied
      • Fungicide
      • Biologicals
      • Other yield enhancement products


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