UK farm data today: what are we using, and what’s next?

The world of Agriculture is fascinating, complex, opinionated, fast moving. For decades there has been an ambition that data and computing power can help the industry keep improving. As farmers we have been strongly encouraged to record, record and record data. So where do we stand today? Are these benefits happening?

Looking across the farm today, we see four broad types of ‘data’ software:

  1. Farm Management / Crop Recording e.g. Gatekeeper, Greenlight Grower Management, Geofolia: emerging in the 2000’s and now used on most farms, these systems grew thanks to regulatory reporting requirements on farm, where keeping digital records of activities such as spray applications is key. The key technology enabler was the development of manipulatable local database systems such as Microsoft Access and others.
  2. Precision and Mapping software e.g. Omnia, SOYL, Rhiza, Fieldview: evolving through the 2010’s, these systems used emerging geo-location and satellite imagery to build map-based assessments at the sub-field level. These have since powered the field of variable rate planting and application, and yield monitoring.
  3. Financial accounts packages e.g. Xero, Landmark, Quickbooks: widely established in most industries now, these systems have been transformed by cloud computing to be more nimble, scalable, and cheaper. Their use has exploded following the government’s Making Tax Digital initiative
  4. Beyond these, most UK farmers use packages such as Microsoft Excel for data collation and simple enquiry, with its manipulatable structure to understand performance, staff, machinery, markets, sales – and so on.
  5. Ok, let’s make it 5 types of ‘data’: the humble notepad and blackboard remain a key feature for many farm businesses!

"Farm technology is evolving rapidly, producing more and more data on farms. As the volume of data increases, so does the complexity of managing it. Fortunately, the services we rely on and the tools we have developed to collect, organise and validate data continue to improve at the same pace, if not faster. For example. advances in machine learning help us better detect and address errors, and correlate data from different sources. A huge leap forward for us in terms of accuracy and a massive time saver."

Edwin van Leeuwen – Head of Product

Beyond this there are plenty of data sources. Weigh bridges, grain and input transaction records, weather data, soil indices, grain quality, labour use – the list is ever growing and ever complex – accelerated further by modern machinery and new sensing and monitoring technology.

This in turn adds to the pool of information that needs to be made sense of.

But where do you start? There is so much information to link and process before trying to answer big questions for your farm.

In a previous article here we highlighted the challenges to putting this data together. Spoiler: it’s not easy.

And if you do manage the Herculean task of getting it safely and uniformly into an excel document, it is highly likely any detailed analysis will crash your computer!

What if we could overcome these big challenges? We can imagine a world where farmers have total access and control of their data, collated and manipulatable in a central secure location. They could harness analytics for better insight, ideas, evidence on how to meet their objectives for the farm.

An example on farm: what is the impact of my slow-release nitrogen fertiliser? Is it helping my nitrogen use efficiency? Is it helping my bottom line? Does it have a better impact in my carbon cost? Where and when does it work best?

"Decision making is a crucial part of farming, where every choice can have a significant impact on the bottom line; planning finances and production, buying inputs, monitoring quality of produce to mention a few. A farm’s data holds the ability to provide significant business insight. Data and analytics are already helping provide insight on how to cultivate crops more efficiently and sustainably. The importance of farm data will only increase as with ever growing population and demand for food, while efficiency and sustainability in delivering results will only increase as data capture becomes more automated and interconnected"

Erika Ogurcova - Data Analyst

Such questions could then be addressed by large scale, verified data, from real farming contexts.

Enter another global technology breakthrough. Advanced cloud-based data infrastructure, as pioneered by Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and others, allow large-scale management, manipulation, and analysis of complex data, at fractions of historical cost. The equivalent pioneers in Agricultural Data are adapting such technology to open up this new chapter for UK farming insight and intelligence.

At YAGRO, we are (shamelessly) experts in Ag Data. We collect, standardize, fix, clean, connect, validate and store data from farms all over the UK – and yes, we love doing it. We work with farmers to make sense of all this amount of data, and help them address key topics for their farms – using the data that’s already available today. Sometimes that’s through our existing online tools (Analytics, Tracker), and sometimes it’s through tailored analysis that farm needs in order to answer the most pressing questions.

Our team has the experience and expertise to help any farmer drive the benefit they need from their data. Get in touch today to start your data insights journey.

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