Infield Data Collection
As the Australian cotton season progresses to the point where some cotton in Central Queensland is already in the gin yard ready to be processed, most fields are anywhere between 15 nodes and full row closure - depending on which valley you are in. During the season, all kinds of data get collected: soil tests, tissue tests, NDVI, moisture levels, weather conditions, etc. Some of this data gets translated into decisions; moisture levels as read by a moisture probe can translate to irrigation decisions for example. Other data like weather readings, is often used as a source of information to find out your accumulative day degrees, total precipitation etc. but is used less often as a sole source of information to base an in-crop decision on.
I have written about the need for a standard method of storing farm data before so that analysis on large sets of data can be performed; the same goes for data that gets collected on farm but that might only be used for on-farm decisions and not for comparing to other growers' data. As the cotton season, or any season for that matter, progresses, we all realise how much data we are collecting and how little we use it in most cases. A moisture probe for example takes a reading every 15 minutes but, of the 96 readings it takes every day, we might only use one reading to base our decision making process on. The same principle applies to NDVI imagery; we get up to 50 images of our crop per season but only use a maximum of 5 to base decisions like VR scripts for fertiliser or growth regulators on.
New methods of data collection are introduced every day, from more sophisticated sensors that are already available to be mounted on ground-engaging machinery such as planters to biodegradable sensors, expected to be released in the next two years, that could be scattered in fields to collect data such as moisture, temperature, sunlight etc. Therefore, growers will progressively have more data available to them but with not many more opportunities to turn them into decisions than they have now. It is therefore easy to see why a large group of growers are not showing interest in collecting any more data than they already are: "what am I going to do with it?" becomes the main question here.
So why should you keep collecting as much data as possible? In my opinion we are only just seeing the start of a multitude of analysis tools that will soon become available to utilise this data. I don't suggest however that you rush out to spend a lot of money on a drone for example and then waste time flying it over your fields to record data you might never use. But, when collecting data is relatively easy and does not cost a lot of time or money, something as simple as turning on the yield monitor in your picker for example is advisable to do, even if you don't have an immediate use for the data that this will generate. It takes time to learn how to use all the technology that came with the equipment that you have purchased in the last few years - the sooner you do this, the sooner you are ready to seize opportunities as they present themselves.
The Climate Corporation (www.climate.com) for example have announced that they are moving towards advanced fertiliser scripting using both sensors and imagery whilst using the same tools to create "new and customised approaches to determine the best seed for a farmer’s geographic region and specific field." SST Software (www.sstsoftware.com) on the other hand has recently put a lot of focus in integrate OEM software (JD operations centre for example) with their software platform so that all data that is captured with this machinery can be used as a data layer in their software solutions to form part of the analysis process for crop management decisions.
The direction that these companies are taking clearly shows the direction that the Precision Agriculture sphere is taking, and those growers that already collect data now will be best equipped to capitalise on new opportunities as they present themselves. If in the coming years you already have multiple seasons' worth of data at your disposal, that might not seem useful now, when new analysis tools come available, you might just find yourself in the front of the pack in adopting new profitable practices...
If you want to know how you can start collecting data on your farm or how you can utilise some of the data that you are already collecting, please reach out to me on the details below.
Written by: Reinder Prins. Reinder Prins is the Market Development Manager for Cotton Growers Services and as such is responsible for the Precision Agriculture initiatives within the organisation. Reinder can be contacted on +61 427 - 808 489 or via e-mail on