If you’ve ever traveled to London and been a passenger on their subway system, the “tube,” you’ve heard the phrase “mind the gap.” It’s kind of funny because that’s not how Americans would say it. We’d probably say “watch your step.” The long, straight cars and the curves in the tracks cause gaps between the train cars and the loading platform; therefore, passengers are warned to “mind the gap.”
This phrase is relevant to all of us who are trying to create value from data. The gap we need to mind is the gap in time that exists between when the field is harvested and when results can be delivered to the grower. Historically, the gap exists for several reasons. Many growers tend to be focused on the task at hand in the fall — the physical work of getting the crop harvested, lime and nutrients applied, and in some cases, tillage operations. Downloading yield cards is something they can do later; the same goes for the decisions they will make from the data. Harvest season priorities and decisions tend to focus on where to take a bumper crop when the “wet bin” is full and the line at the elevator is backed up.
Technology offers an answer to close the gap, and the wireless transfer of data can eliminate the gap, but there is a catch — data quality.
I get challenged on data quality all the time. Frequently, when I present at a large conference, there are skeptics and “unbelievers” in the audience. Usually, someone will make a comment about “all the bad yield data out there.” My response is to defend growers. If I’m a grower and I’ve never made a decision using my yield data, after a few years I will likely quit caring about calibration. But Premier Crop’s experience is that when growers understand how they can use their data to make better decisions, they drive everyone involved crazy in getting their data perfect! If their grain cart scales say the field average is 236.7 bushels per acre and the yield file says 229.7 bushels per acre, they expect us to correct the yield file. So while it might be true that many farmers haven’t taken the time in the past to calibrate their yield monitor, there is a logical reason for their lack of attention.
Telematics — being able to send data wirelessly — offers advantages to all of us in agriculture. But in many cases, it can mean we have sped up how fast we move inaccurate data. And you know the saying: “garbage in, garbage out.”
At Premier Crop, our customers are in the thick of delivering 2014 data analysis results to growers. For our customers and staff that means a lot of “fixing” data. But data fixing doesn’t stop at the yield file. Why would data need to be fixed? Many times, it’s because something didn’t get logged correctly or as completely as needed.
Many companies are now offering data analysis solutions that rely heavily on telematics as their service’s backbone. I saw an example recently where the company was providing an independent benchmarking for genetic performance by soils driven by their telematics solution.
The problem is many times not all the data needed to provide quality analysis is logged. Five different growers might have logged that they were planting Channel 207-13. But that hybrid has five different trait combinations ranging from conventional to SmartStax (see table for examples). Averaging the yield for all five trait combinations into one number isn’t an accurate comparison.
Quality data analysis relies on quality data. And quality data requires hard work and attention to detail. Even though we can use technology to make the timing gap smaller, we all must still “mind the data quality gap.”
Originally published in Corn and Soybean Digest.