Paving the Way to Easy Data Transfer

I have had the privilege of being in the “Precision Ag business” for over 20 years now. A lot has changed since I started, but some fundamental issues still plague our ability to make it easier for users to leverage the various technologies that are available: having systems “talk to each other” technically referred to as “interoperability” is a key challenge. This issue is apparent from a recent survey conducted by AgGateway, a non-profit industry consortium that is focused on promoting and enabling the industry’s transition to digital agriculture with a goal of maximizing efficiency and productivity ( As an industry our goal is to make these technologies relevant to a large cross section of growers, so in the future we don’t refer to “Precision Agriculture” instead we just say “this is how you do Agriculture.”

First, a little context – there is a generic technology adoption curve that is referenced in several industries which speaks to the challenges of achieving broad adoption. That challenge is referred to as “crossing the chasm.” Here’s a visual of what I’m talking about:

agriculture data transfer adoption curve

Let’s look at that survey now, here’s the question: “How easy or difficult do you find it to compile and analyze data from various sources?”  Essentially the question is asking how easy is it to get the systems of your choosing to “talk to each other?” I find it amazing how the responses follow a technology adoption curve which I show in the two right columns of this table:

agriculture data transfer ADAPT

84% of respondents indicated it is either moderately or very difficult! You can’t see broad adoption with those sort of experiences. At Premier Crop Systems we work with Advisors to make this process as easy as possible, and we have been very active as part of a larger industry effort within AgGateway to get to a common file format (or a “data decoder ring”) that can be used by any software or hardware system. It is a long journey, but a significant milestone has been achieved recently. The AgGateway “decoder ring” (a software component known as ADAPT) has been awarded a 2018 Davidson Prize for being one of the top three newly introduced products that are perceived to be the most innovative and will likely have a significant impact on agricultural production, efficiency, and/or safety This speaks to the importance of solving this issue for the entire industry to take advantage of technology.

Getting systems to “talk to each other” is easy to say, but it is a complex problem to solve. One key ingredient to make it happen is to make sure the software and hardware companies know it is an expectation by the users for this to be accomplished. The AgGateway survey results are a telling indicator of the issue, but a larger signal came from the formal encouragement for “Precision companies” to commit to use ADAPT by the American Soybean Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Barley Growers Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Cotton Council, the National Farmers Union, The National Sorghum Producers, the National Sunflower Association, the U.S. Canola Association, the U.S. Dry Bean Council, USA Rice, and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

At Premier Crop Systems we are actively working on using this “data decoder ring” to make it easier to have our software “talk to” other systems. While it is a work in progress, we are making great strides in the right direction to solve this complex problem.

More Data Helps Data Driven Decisions

At this time of the year, it’s easy to feel like yields are largely a function of weather – temperature and rainfall. Over the years in hundreds of grower meetings, I’ve heard that sentiment repeatedly. If you are inclined to think that way, think about this scenario.

Imagine a flat 160-acre field in your area, farmed by the same grower for 30 years, is going to be auctioned to the highest bidder. The field is unique in that it is all one soil type (I know there is no such field in most acres – but we’re pretending so please play along). Pushing for the highest value, the auctioneer splits the field into two side-by-side 80 acre tracts – selling the field first as two 80’s and then as a 160.

The price received as two 80’s is higher, so the next year two different growers farm each of the 80’s. The entire field was soybeans the year before, so both growers plant corn in their first year farming their new purchase.

Both will receive the same growing degree units and virtually the exact same rainfall. How much yield difference could there be between each of these two 80’s the following harvest?

Over the years, I’ve used this example with growers in small group meetings and usually the answer is in the 40-50 bushel per acre range – sometimes as high as 75-80 bushels per acre difference!

How can there be that much difference? Simple. It’s because management matters!! And the purpose of this column is to encourage you to use your agronomic and economic data to make better management decisions.

We’ve seen it over and over again – similar soils and weather but dramatic differences in results. Usually it’s not one decision but the combination of multiple decisions. This chart is one example:

determine seed selection by soil type

Hybrid and variety selection – it is common to find 20-30 bushels per acre differences on the same soil type and same weather events. A starting place is looking at your own hybrid and variety performance data by soils – both at a field level and across all your entire operation.

Your data can be a guide for not only making next year’s hybrid and variety selection but also where to place specific genetics.

The more data you collect, the more you can make data driven decisions! Applied fertility rates, planting dates, planter performance, trait packages, soil test levels and planting populations are examples of some of the critical agronomic decisions you make every year.

You might be able to hold Mother Nature accountable for the first 50% or even 75% of your yield results, but the other half or less (and all the profit) is your responsibility!

Every Acre Is Unique

Foundations of agronomy and geography are the starting place for data-driven decisions.

I believe data driven decisions will power change in every aspect of crop production. Your data can be a valuable business asset that leads to greater profitability.

There are some key foundational principles in using data to drive decisions in crop production that are worth reviewing. The first is centered on uniqueness. Just as we each have unique fingerprints and DNA, each part of every field is unique.

Much of your data that can be used for making better decisions is being collected with a device connected to a GPS receiver. Most of the software that reads the data files is a version of a geographic information system (GIS). The difference between this software and a database you might use for your livestock operation or some other aspect of your farming operation is the first word – geographic. Your data is stored tied to a unique geographic place in the world. While there are other areas that are very similar, none of those are exactly the same.

Why does a product work so well in one place, but not at all in another? Why does the ideal rate of an input change within parts of your field? Many times, the answer is as simple as “geography matters”! If you treat all you acres as if they are same, you’ll lose out on efficiencies and profits.

The second principle to consider is best illustrated by the rain barrel. The rain barrel, with staves of varying heights, is a visual way to illustrate the real-world reality of what limits yield in any one place within a field changes. Nitrogen is limiting in the southeast corner of the field but not the center. Population is limiting one place but not another.

The rain barrel concept is easy to talk about but challenging to put into practice. Our goal is to maximize return on every dollar invested. Ideally, we are adjusting every input to not only match the uniqueness of the geography but also to match the combination and limitations of the other staves in the rain barrel in each part of the field.

use data analytics to determine yield limiting factors

The irony of our leap forward in planter technology is that, in many cases, we now have more uniformly-spaced, nutrient-deficient plants that anyone would ever have imagined. A one-time investment in upgrading planters has been easier to justify than the continuous re-investment in fertility, especially on rented acres.

An appreciation for these two principles will lead you to collect as much geo-referenced data as possible.

Measuring Yield Efficiency Using a Visualization Platform

We are excited to announce the launch of our new Data Visualization platform, part of our three-tier technology strategy. This new platform allows growers to gain key insights that give them the ability to make informed decisions based off economics, seed, crop protection, fertility, operations and management.

The Data Visualization platform is focused on grower dashboards and group benchmarking ultimately showcasing a Yield Efficiency Score for growers’ operations.


yield efficiency as an ag tech disruption driver


“Data Visualization is a key to helping growers understand their yield efficiency as their measure of success using a Yield Efficiency Score,” stated Darren Fehr, director of sales and marketing.

A Yield Efficiency Score, by Premier Crop, similar to a credit FICO score, is a single number derived from multiple factors. Its purpose is to determine a grower’s return on investment on a per acre basis but from a spatial perspective.

Yield Efficiency is rapidly becoming the most important metric to measure grower’s success in order to enhance a grower’s operation. “Our ultimate success is the grower’s success. We are constantly looking to improve growers’ operations to maximize efficiency and help them be more profitable on the acres they have,” said Tony Licht, business development manager in Iowa.

Premier Crop’s Data Visualization platform and Yield Efficiency Score allows a grower to visually see anonymous group data and grower benchmarking. It provides a benchmarking score how a grower is performing against others as well as against their own fields. Using the grower’s actual data in five of their most important decision-making categories (economics, seed, crop protection, fertility, operations) to prove efficiency and effectiveness of crop production.


“Group data is powerful over that many acres, allowing us to benchmark with other producers anonymously, which is invaluable information to my operation,” said Brad Hagen, Minnesota corn producer. Brad works with Premier Crop’s partner, Central Advantage GS.

Give Your Data Purpose with a Yield Efficiency Score

As you are gearing up for harvest, there is a nervous excitement. You are about to get your final grade for 2019. How did you do? Did you make money? Did your decisions for the year pay off? These questions may give you pause, how do you measure such a thing? Is it the check that comes in the mail from the elevator? Is it the number that comes across the combine monitor? Is it, if your harvest map is green instead of red?

We help you answer these questions to establish your goals and create strategies to achieve them. Because we know it’s not about the highest yield, it’s really about how you profit. We can show you how profitable you were with our new Yield Efficiency Score metric.

Premier Crop has found a solution to combine all agronomic inputs, operations, yield and cost to determine your Yield Efficiency Score. A Yield Efficiency Score, similar to a credit FICO score, is a single number derived from multiple factors. The purpose of the Yield Efficiency Score is to take all your collected data within each field and use it to determine your per acre return to land and management.

Premier Crop helps you get started with a Yield Efficiency Score. At a minimum, we need yield files, field information (pesticide programs, planting rates, varieties, fertility programs, and input costs) that can be entered or gained from as-applied files from the planter or applicator, and your input costs. You don’t need the most updated equipment to gain efficiency knowledge, you just have to be willing to sit down with your advisor and walk them through your farm plan during the season.

Once a Yield Efficiency Score is calculated you can visually see a benchmarking gauge that allows you to see beyond your own operation.

The Yield Efficiency Scores below are a true sentiment that obtaining the highest yield is not always the highest profit. Notice the image on the right shows that this grower has approx. -41 bu/ac less than the highest yield in the benchmark peer group, yet the image on the left indicates he is nearly the highest profiting.

yield efficiency score can determine corn profits

The same can be done with seed, fertilizer & pesticide products/rates/times, field management, and economics.

As you track your data, year after year we can track how your efficiency gets better over time and how the decisions you make affect your bottom dollar. The longer you are in the program, the more confident your decision making will become. We strive for continuous improvement through shared learning and increased knowledge working along side you.

Yield efficiency is the metric you may not know you are missing, but yield efficiency has the ability to transform the way you view your operation and each individual field. At Premier Crop we know you have different needs and our goal is to help you reach them. If you are interested in getting your Yield Efficiency Score, contact Premier Crop now and an Agronomic Information Advisor will be in touch with you.

Your success is our success, we strive to give your data purpose.

Data Leads to Input Decisions

Sometimes life events leave a mark for generations. The Great Depression created generations of frugal farm family survivors. Feeding a family was a challenge – holding on to a farm was almost impossible for many. The “frugal stamp” wasn’t just left on the parents but their children and many times passed on to another generation.

Did you grandmother save everything? Save leftovers – not in Tupperware but in leftover butter or other plastic food containers? Save old jeans to have material for future patches. Did your grandfather save pieces of old lumber for the next project? One of the most popular radio talk shows, hosted by Dave Ramsey, encourages being frugal to climb out of debt.

In tight economic times, it’s easy to want to take a frugal approach on crop inputs. In an October issue of CSD, an article highlighted DuPont Pioneer’s findings that many field sampled have below optimum soil test P and K levels, with their expert calculating over $4 billion in lost revenues for growers.

The elephant in the room is the negative impact that high cast rents can have on maintaining the productivity of many farms. In most markets, the competition for land is so fierce that growers resort to penny-pinching on P and K application. Many don’t want to leave any nutrients for the next renter if they go out-bid.

The article also highlighted the new higher-yield reality of how much has to be applied to keep up with nutrient removals. The “old” shotgun of 400 lbs. of dry fertilizer every other year can mine soil test levels quickly.

I believe the yield loss associated with being frugal is far more significant than most agronomists and growers realize. I believe that for many growers the “optimum” soil test level is even higher than university definitions of “optimum”. This chart shows one way to analyze data across a grower’s 1,700 acres of soybeans – examining the relationship between low to high yield acres and the corresponding soil test P and K levels.


If these were your yield results, what would you consider your optimum soil test levels? That’s the power of your data – it can lead you to customize your approach to what is best on your farm versus a state-wide average.

There are many strategies to address the fertility needs of the crop. Strip tillage and deep banding of nutrients is a great way to compensate for low fertility fields and maximizing return for nutrient dollars invested. Irrigated sand requires that we spoon feed nutrients.

For most nutrients, feeding the crop is a combination what we apply, including manure, and what the soil supplies. We shouldn’t measure our success by whether we raised soil test levels but by our yields and cost/bushel. I believe your data will leave you to find the balance in your approach to input decisions. In corn and soybean production, you can spend yourself poor but you can’t save yourself into prosperity.

Use Multiple Layers of Data to Make an Informed Crop Decision

With Christmas fresh in the rear-view, I’m reflecting on the gifts I gave and whether or not they were the ‘right’ gift for each person. What quantifies a good gift in my mind is not at all what quantifies a good gift to my husband. I’ve learned I need to ‘speak his language’ if I want to choose something that really sparks joy for him. The funny part?  The gift itself doesn’t matter to him! What matters to him is that the gift is well-researched and that it’s the choice the research says was best among similar options. This year, my husband got a new angle grinder power tool. The angle grinder could’ve cost $80 or $400, he doesn’t care—so long as he hears these words: “I spent endless hours looking for the best angle grinder and based on multiple sources of research, this is THE angle grinder to beat all angle grinders.”

reviews for premier crop data

In today’s digital age, we can find information faster than ever before. It’s become more important to know whether an information source is reliable, given there are a lot of opinions floating around when we need facts we can trust.

Every year, as a farmer, you make critical planning and management decisions that affect your livelihood and farming operation. If you’re like me and won’t buy a gift without reading multiple reviews, how do  you choose what seed to buy, how much fertilizer to apply, what additives to use, what rate to seed at, or make any other farm management decision without a way to check whether or not it is a profitable decision?  What if you knew the answers based on research and data? What if someone could hand you data to tell you if your inputs are a profitable decision?

Here’s an illustration from 2019. A farmer was trying to understand the right planting population for a particular hybrid. He could look at a few different pieces of information available including (not limited to) information from the seed company, information from his historic productivity, and a recommendation from a local advisor. Based on the available information, he chose to variable rate seed his field and also include some randomized, replicated population studies (around 3 acres in size) within different productivity zones to help ‘check his work.’

Going into the trial, we expected that he would’ve seen a yield response to increased planting population (up to 37,000 seeds/acre) in the higher yield environment based partially on the fact it was a semi-determinate ear and partially because the seed company research said so. Were we using good information sources?  Sure. But did we need more local data? Yep. Instead of a yield bump from higher populations, the farmer found that 32,500 seeds was the right rate for this hybrid in that environment using statistical data. The yield response to finding that right rate was 20 bushels on either side—an $80 revenue swing—whether we planted too high or too low. What an important piece of information to have next year!

statistical results of variable rate seed

premier crop statistical yield data

The point is two-fold.  The information sources you use in farm management decision-making have a drastic impact to your bottom-line. It’s important to measure and ‘check your work,’ on your own fields. You may be making the wrong management choices without even knowing it. If you wouldn’t buy a new shop tool without doing homework on the options, doesn’t it make sense to use the same approach with farm management using multiple layers of data to make an informed crop decision?

Use Data to Drive Cuts

Where to cut expense in tough times! Row crop agriculture now faces that question. Big company solutions to this dilemma are already resulting in massive layoffs or job cuts.

U.S. agriculture is efficient. If measured as output per person, our industry continues to increase productivity at an amazing pace. We’ve stretched what one person is capable of producing with capital investments in equipment, facilities and technology. Row crop farming can’t be cut by issuing pink slips, as many experts predict a coming labor and talent shortage in agriculture.

If cutting labor costs isn’t an option, where can you cut? I believe that your data is the only place to look to make cost-cutting decisions.


Explore these data examples to find expense cuts:

1. What farms to farm? Several years ago, one of our grower customers was asked by a big company exec for an example of a decision they had made using their data. Their very first answer was “we no longer farm in Liberty township.” They explained that their cost per bushel data over a five-year period proved that Liberty was the least profitable direction to grow their operation. Land costs, yields and competitive pressure made margins too tight to justify farming in that area.

2. Trait vs. insecticide decision and tradeoffs? Rotating pest treatments is one Integrated Pest Management strategy but it also might be a great expense saving strategy for some fields. use your data to sort out tradeoffs and determine if paying for both a biotech trait package and an insecticide is profitable.

3. Where to apply manure? Most growers now view manure as a resource and not a waste product – use that philosophy and your data to guide which fields receive treatments. Here’s a hint – those fields won’t be closest to the source!!!

4. Where to invest in P and K? This is where many growers make the wrong decision – they either cut applications on all their acres or they flat rate a “maintenance” application on all acres. Use your data to go field by field – looking at low fertility areas. Are there enough acres to warrant a variable rate application? If you’ve invested in building your soil fertility bank, use it wisely. Cut only in the areas where levels are high enough to support next year’s yields without additional applications.

Crop rotation by field? In parts of Manitoba, a wheat, soybean, canola rotation breaks the disease cycle. In central Kansas this fall, the grower I visited harvested soybeans and seeded wheat that same day – how cool is that for an Iowan. No matter where I travel, it is obvious certain fields do better with certain crop rotations. Your data can be your guide for this decision.

Measure Financial Impacts of Agronomic Decisions

In farming and a pandemic – having the right denominator matters

Almost everything related to the Covid-19 pandemic frustrates me. From the ease at which the rich and famous can get tested while “normal” people are told just to stay home, to the media’s biases from opposite perspectives.

I live in Iowa, and earlier in the week, our governor and the state epidemiologist held a press conference on Covid-19. Part of their messaging was that not everyone that has the Covid-19 symptoms needs to be tested. The state epidemiologist said that 80% of us won’t have severe symptoms from Covid-19 and will recover fine at home.

I understand those messages and know they are being echoed across the country. We have a shortage of test kits, so it makes sense to use them for the most vulnerable cases.

But since our business, Premier Crop, is all about using data to drive decisions, I also understand that having quality data, and in this case, the right denominator matters.

Here is an example of recent Covid-19 analytics for the world.

11,277 deaths (numerator)/258,419 confirmed infections (denominator) = 4.36% world death rate

What if the “Iowa message” on who needs to get tested (for understandable reasons) is being repeated across the US and around the world? What if we are dramatically under counting/testing the infected population?  What if, at the time of that analysis, there were actually one million people with the Covid-19 infection in the world and the death rate is significantly lower?

is there such thing as bad data

I don’t have an “agenda” in the Covid-19 debate, but I get data analytics. How you measure is directly connected to how you manage. Bad data equals bad analytics equals mis-informed and sometimes wrong decisions. The ‘denominator’ matters!

Let me share an ag data analytics example below from one of our dashboards – benchmarking one of a grower’s 58 individual fields vs the entire farm operation. This field’s seed cost per acre (the denominator) was one of their highest at $107.34/ac – their seed costs/acre ranged from $97.48/ac up $112.03/ac. But when evaluated using, what I would argue is the right denominator, seed cost/bushel produced, this field was almost their lowest at $0.47/bu produced.


How many conversations with lenders this winter have ended in frustration because of a one-sized-fits-all per acre spending limit on inputs. I think it’s time that we change how we measure our farming business.  Everything agronomic is economic and we can measure and manage both.

We can help you use your precision ag equipment and your data to stretch your input investments to the maximum in each part of each of your fields.

The pandemic analytics we are seeing every day in the news can have the effect of de-humanizing the sorrow and heartache that families are feeling as they battle illness and sometimes lose loved ones. We are privileged to work with many multi-generational family farms and we know how important that older generation is to the farm and to the family. Stay safe and keep all of your loved ones safe.

How Technology has Changed Agriculture


There are no right or wrong answers to the title of this blog, How Technology has changed agriculture, instead there are too many to write about. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and our work more efficient.  Depending on your age (generation) your answers to this question will differ.  I decided to ask my dad and grandpa what technologies have had the most impact on their farming careers.

farming a family legacy

At 93 years old, my grandpa has experienced significant transformation in agricultural development – from farming with horses to now high-horse powered tractors. His initial answer to my question was herbicides. The advent of chemical weed control made his life much easier. Cultivating and walking fields to manage weed pressure, both time consuming tasks, were not eliminated, but herbicide use was a great management strategy to add. The invention of hydraulic cylinders was another technology he mentioned that made farming much easier. Prior to hydraulic cylinders showing up on implements, farmers used cables, chains, and levers to raise, lower, and adjust equipment. Manual labor was reduced and an easy pull on a lever to direct oil flow was all that was needed to control equipment. The last technology he mentioned having a significant impact on his farming career was the implementation of conservation practices (reduced tillage, contours, terraces). Plowing, or conventional tillage, leaves the majority of the soil surface exposed for erosion – both wind and water.  Reducing erosion and preserving the topsoil benefited him and future generations.

My Dad has been farming for nearly 40 years and has experienced numerous advancements, too. Herbicides, hydraulic cylinders, and conservation farming had all been invented or implemented before his career started.  He agreed that the technology most impactful to my grandpa has also had a positive impact on his career, but shared different technologies that have had a more direct impact to him. His first answer to my question was simply electronics. I asked him to be more specific, but he stuck with his broad answer because it covers many specific technologies. Tachometers on tractors used to be a gauge with a needle that moved – now it’s a digital readout. Yield was measured as an average value for the field after it went across a scale – now we measure yield thousands of times within a field.

precision ag through the years

Our ability to spatially assign (map) yield within a field allows for investigation into factors the drive or limit yield. Planters were ground-driven – now each row can be powered with its own electric motor. GPS and electronics have given us the ability to control our equipment with finite detail, which improves efficiency. The development of herbicide tolerant crops is another technology that has impacted dad’s farming career. My dad had been utilizing herbicides for many years, but it wasn’t until the late `90s that herbicide tolerant crops were introduced. Since then weed control has never been the same. At first it was easy, but weed resistance to different chemistries has added complexities. Even with issues surrounding weed resistance, it is still easier and more effective than weed control before herbicide tolerant crops entered the market.

In my 27 years on Earth there have been quite a few changes in agriculture, but it doesn’t compare to what dad and grandpa have experienced. Thinking back to my childhood, the most significant advancement in agricultural technology would have been the addition of ‘buddy seats’ in tractors. The change from half-sitting on an armrest to having my own seat was a big deal (to me). Today, when I think about future technologies in agriculture, the first thing that comes to my mind is data. There is an immense amount of data being collected by agricultural equipment. What new insights will farmers glean from this data? How will it make farming easier and production more efficient?

how technology has changed in agriculture

I can’t relate to operating equipment without hydraulics or plowing every acre. I grew up in the era of Roundup, so weed control has seemed relatively easy, but I have walked more beans than I’ve wanted. I have an appreciation for what farming was like, but will probably never fully understand how it has changed in the past 100 years. Agricultural technologies will continue to evolve and provide solutions to make life easier and more efficient.

To date, what technology has had the most significant impact on you and your operation?  What do you think future generations will voice as the most important technology change in agriculture? With all the data you are collecting, how are you using it to make better decisions and continuously improve?