Collecting Useful Observations in the Field

In ag analytics, more data is not always better. Right data is more important than big data, and furthermore, the data must be relevant and reliable.

We believe that the in-field scouting observations collected by agronomists are an important set of local data that can be used to improve field decisions. We are here to help make that happen, starting with advice on how to collect useful observations.

In this article, we are covering a few principles to keep in mind while collecting observations. These ideas will make it easier to organize and analyze your information at the end of the year in a way that drives your business forward.

Keep your goals in mind

It is important to identify the desired information and insights. What are you hoping to learn? What are you trying to communicate?

A few example goals might be:

  • I want to explain the top factors that influenced yield for my fields.
  • I want to see how varieties performed under specific soil types and weather patterns.
  • I want to understand how the weather impacted yield.
  • I want to explore the impact of certain practices on my field's results.

Remember. You're not just collecting data for this year. Many analyses will use data from prior seasons to inform your decisions.

Collect Observations That Help with Your Goals

With goals in mind, you can work backward to identify the observations that matter and set up your processes accordingly.

For a simple example, if it is important to identify how a crop was impacted during a certain growth stage, be sure to include a data field for "Growth Stage" in your form and enter that information when you visit the field. If you are concerned about managing a particular pest, be sure to include that pest in your form.

Another result here is prioritizing your process. You might find that some observations you are recording today are not adding value to your reports or downstream analyses. If this is the case, save yourself some time and skip the data fields that don't add value to your reports or downstream analyses. Cleaning and managing data is expensive. 

Ensure Consistency

Consistency is important for your observations to be compared and analyzed. Comparing apples to oranges won't help answer your questions, which makes it important to be consistent with units of measure and pest ratings across your team and fields.

Using a structured form, such as those available in systems like FieldX, will help you stay consistent. It is easy to misspell or inconsistently record data if you are just typing notes each week.

Stay Efficient

Good data and efficient data collection often go hand-in-hand. Creating customized forms and straightforward data entry processes can speed up your time in the field while also saving time at the end of the season. You don't have to choose between good data and less time in the field!

What Other Data Do You Need?

In today's world, your data is going to be stored in different systems that do different things. This is definitely true in agriculture, and frankly, most industries. The trick is to know where to get it when you need it and to have systems that can help you analyze it. Agronomists often need to supplement observations with data from equipment, weather apps, and increasingly, other in-field sensors.

One upshot here is that you don't have to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data available to you. Just focus on the data that you will be able to use. We'll say it again- the right data is more important than big data.

OK, so what do I do?

  • Write down your goals: Somewhere, anywhere, write down the decisions that you want to improve or the topics that you want to learn about from your agricultural observations.
  • Record your scouting observations in dedicated scouting software: Look for a scouting tool that includes structured, flexible data forms as opposed to typing in text. The FieldX platform (www.fieldx.com) is a good example. Using good data collection software will help you get a good data set at the end of the year while keeping you efficient in the field.
  • Prepare before you get to the field: Take some time ahead of the season or on a rainy day to create customized forms and templates. Investing some time upfront saves you a lot of time in the field and at the end of the season.
  • Identify the data you are most likely to use: Include the data fields that will be useful for your goals or be interesting to your customer on his recommendation report. Take out everything else to save time in the field.
  • Ensure consistent units of measure. If you are rating weeds on a 0-9 scale, make sure your whole team is using that rating. Setting up custom forms ahead of the season will make this easy for all involved.
  • Know where to find supporting data: All of the data that you need will not be in one spot. Know where to get it or which systems can pull information in will save you time.
  • Check product names: The varieties entered into equipment are often not standardized and manually entered. If you are pulling data off the equipment, take extra care to check the names of products. You can also proactively discuss your goals and the value being gained from data to help them understand the importance of high-quality data entry.

We can help

We are professionals with deep experience in handling agricultural data and gaining insights from it. If this sounds overwhelming (or boring!), and you would like some help meeting your business goals with data analytics, we would love to talk. Learn about our services here: www.dxdag.com/services.

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