Farm Data Company Aims to Take the Bias out of Farm Data Pooling

There are many companies on the market that provide precision agriculture technology services to farmers. These technologies offer a variety of hardware and software applications, including drone technology. At the most basic level, precision agriculture consists of placing sensors throughout a farmer’s fields. The sensors collect a wide variety of data, including ambient temperature, soil moisture content, pest presence, and plant growth. The data is delivered to the farmer’s computer, tablet, or smartphone device in real time. The data can be manipulated across a variety of databases and applications to help the farmer figure out what’s going on with his crops or livestock. Some technologies are so accurate that they can pinpoint the very square foot where pests have recently moved in and started to chow down.

The usefulness of these technologies cannot be understated. Farming is an around-the-clock job chalk full of minute-to-minute issues that arise without warning. Before precision agriculture, many farmers were forced to monitor their fields the old fashion way, by walking through the rows and orchards. Now, checking to see whether your almond orchard needs watering can be accomplished with the click of a button–right from your living room. Current technologies record countless data sets, from the pattern in which seeds were planted to shifts in soil chemistry.

For every benefit that precision agriculture affords at the intra-farm level, there are just as many benefits to be realized on the inter-farm level. Data pooling, for example, offers an invaluable tool for tracking geographical trends and regional practices. Through data pooling, farmers can find out what their neighbor’s have been doing and access information that many help them make more informed decisions about their own crops. Throughout time, farming has been a practice fed by collective knowledge and cooperation. Data pooling brings this ethos into the digital age and broadens every farmer’s access to regional cohorts.

The benefits of agricultural data pooling are very similar to the way doctors measure blood pressure. If you take your blood pressure every day for a week and write it down, you may have some sense of how your health is fairing. If you can compare those measurements to other people with your same demographics, however, you have a much better sense of whether your blood pressure is in a good place. The more people that share their data, the more accurately you will be able to weigh the healthfulness of your measurements.

The same idea works for agricultural data pooling, too. If two farmers share information regarding when they planted, when they harvested, and how much each crop yielded, they may have a sense of which farmer’s strategy worked better. If 100 farmers share that same data, the likelihood of honing in on best practices increases exponentially.

Data pooling also offers a way to save farmers a lot of cash. Many farmers purchase several hundred thousand dollars worth of seed each year. Not all of the seed that gets planted grows, however. If farmers can pinpoint the reason causing some seed to not produce, it could save them a lot of money–either through increased yields or lower seed costs.

Although there are many farm data pooling services, the vast majority of them–if not all–are sponsored and maintained by private companies that sell seed, fertilizer, and crop maintenance products to farmers. This infuses a bit of bias into the data pool, with companies hoping their products will outshine comparable choices in the market.

Farmers Business Network (FBN) seeks to change the way farm data is pooled and made available to farmers. The company’s mission “is to improve the livelihood of farmers by making data useful and accessible.” To that end, FBN remains “completely independent and unbiased,” making the provision of objective information their primary goal.

For a flat rate of $500 per year, a farmer can access eight different FBN features, including seed optimization analysis and access to thousands of seed trial results, hourly field level weather information, and comprehensive field and enterprise benchmarking. The membership also includes options for collaborating with FBN advisors and employees in addition to discounts on precision agriculture products. FBN members enjoy whole farm analysis programs that pinpoint factors driving yield on a particular farm, in addition to individual profiles of each field. Most importantly, FBN’s platforms work with over 35 brands and file formats, making it easy for farmers to integrate FBN’s service with their existing precision agriculture technologies, including Apple devices.

Many precision agriculture services charge membership rates according the amount of acres in a farmer’s operation. A flat rate fee of a few hundred bucks, therefore, is a real deal.

FBN an impressive roster of board members and employees with a wide range of experience in both the technology and agriculture sectors, including scientists, farmers, engineers, and entrepreneurs. The company recently scored $15 million in funding from Google Ventures and other investment institutes, bringing FBN’s total venture capital investments to $28 million.

With fears of the global food crises reaching a fever pitch in the next few decades, precision agriculture may play a part in increasing food production around the world.

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