Data Rich, Knowledge Poor

Information. It’s everywhere.  And in the ag world, it is quite the buzz word. There are more devices, add-ons, and functionality of programs and applications used daily than we could have even dreamed of 5 years ago, let alone when I started farming in the early 70’s.

As a farmer, I KNOW I need the data.  I can turn the page of any of my favorite farm magazines and read about how important it is to capture information such as what I plant, how I plant it, when I plant it, etc…but what is that really telling me?  And most importantly, how do I USE it to directly add to my bottom line? Here are a few things I have gleaned over my time as a grower working to avoid being a data rich, knowledge poor farmer.


Too often I see folks making seed purchasing decisions by looking at a very limited scope.  How often do we accept information at face value without verifying if it is both accurate and complete?  We pick out our best piece of ground, highest performer, or sweet spot blessed with rain that year. Imagine this: I harvested my crop and am on my way to the elevator to sell it. What my yield monitor told me and what the elevator told me were not within a ½ of a percent of each other. In fact, they are as much as 30% different.

If I didn’t take the time to accurately calibrate my yield data in the first place, how can I legitimately use it to make wise decisions on my farm? Data collected at the coffee shop is never as accurate as real harvest data.  The same product in differing conditions is like comparing apples to grapes.  They are two different animals (well, plants) altogether.


When trying to decide what data services I need, it can get dicey. I have to look past the bells and whistles to try to understand what features I am really paying for. Does my field report tell me exactly what I would find out if I simply got out of the cab and walked my fields; or does the information gathered add a level of analysis and comparison that I would never have penciled out on my kitchen table? Data is great, but it is most vital when it provides insights into my operation that I would not otherwise have.


One question I like to ask myself is…how useful is the information if I can’t understand it?  There is a lot of wisdom in an old family bible written in Latin, and I KNOW there is something there that would really be good to use in my life…but I don’t speak Latin, haven’t learned Latin, and have no tutor to teach me Latin.  Although the information has value, I can’t use it.  I either need to get it in a form I CAN use and understand; or do the work needed to gain the skills and insights to read the material as is.  Only when I understand the data am I able to USE it.  How often do we skip that vital step and assume that just “having” is the same as “using?”


The final litmus test is getting a grasp on who has access to my data.  Too often I see agreements with stipulations for data collection allowing the companies I buy from to see and harvest my information.  As the owner of that data, I feel I should have the opportunity to decide whose eyes are on it. Although I don’t relish having to read the fine print of every click-through contract in every piece of computer hardware and software I have in my farm operation, I think it is important to know what I am agreeing to and being comfortable with the circulation of my personal data.


In the world of digitized information there are literally hundreds of ways to collect, process, and store data. I hope these few guidelines help you determine whether you are using the necessary tools, or need to make some changes to better manage your farm in 2018.

Featured Image Credit: ajmexico

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