Farmobile is one of many data start-ups that we’ve been closely observing with a sense of keen curiosity since they busted into the data collection scene back in 2014.
Recently, the Overland Park, KS-based ag tech outfit gained a bit more credence in the eyes of this author when, on an early October 2016 trip to visit Dr. John Fulton and the Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering (FABE) program at The Ohio State University, the good doctor Fulton and his cohort Dr. Scott Shearer both raved about the simplicity of the Farmobile PUC (that’s the round neon orange hardware that hooks into an implement’s ISOBUS terminal and transmits machine data to the cloud) and how seamlessly it flows data between different equipment brands and FMIS programs.
Then in November, Farmobile announced the release of its newest update to its data collection system, the EFR Dashboard. According to CEO Jason Tatge, the new mobile data visualization platform “makes data more touchable,” both for the grower and the advisor working those acres on behalf of the local retailer or co-op.
“I call it ‘touchable’ — touchable is really what the dashboard is all about, allowing growers to get out of the combine today and look at a yield map, and look right above it and see what date they planted, what population they planted at, and they can have that intelligent conversation with the seed rep when they go to purchase product for the next year.”
Much of the added value the EFR Dashboard brings to the grower/retailer relationship is grounded in enabling a more robust conversation with the seed rep, both on the grower side as well as on the seed side (the rep obviously doesn’t want to sell a poorly performing hybrid on those acres and risk losing the business), Tatge says.
“Now that they have this data in their hands they can have a more intelligent conversation with the seed rep, because we all know the biggest discounts generally are offered before the farmers have time to crunch all of that harvest data and really figure out what performed well.”
Another way growers and agronomists can deploy the EFR Dashboard is to ground truth hunches on-the-fly. As Tatge says, we all know farmers have all kinds of hunches on their fields’ various low spots, poorly-yielding corners, and the various soil types and how to properly manage those areas.
“A very good example of that is, we were working with an agronomist that was going through planting data with one of his customers, and he noticed that this is pretty much a flat-rate population guy, and the agronomist noticed on one field, the population got really light,” he explains. “So he has a conversation with that farmer where he says ‘Look, I was looking through this stuff — and it was pretty boring actually because it was all flat-rate — but I noticed this one field where there is a quarter of the field where populations got really light. What gives?’
“And the farmer starts laughing and explains to him that, with this particular field, it was late on a Friday and he didn’t feel like going back and loading more seed so he just went and spaced out his populations. But that’s a perfect example of something that the agronomist might have tried to fix if they were just looking at yield data alone, right? But the reason that whole situation occurred had nothing to do with agronomy, it was just the grower was close to running out of seed and didn’t want to go back to get more.”
Quickly evaluating hybrid performance on the acre is another way the EFR Dashboard can be used with the local sales rep, according to Tatge.
“We’re starting to learn that certain hybrids react and work well when you push up populations, and the yield represents pretty well with the increased populations, and some of them don’t, so you can push populations and still not see the yield payoff you’re hoping for,” he says. “It’s really an expansion of what some of the Answer Plots or test plots do today, except it’s on a full field level basis.”
Naturally then, with the industry still closely monitoring that other attempt at crop input disintermediation, it begs the question of whether Farmobile is looking to usurp the distribution channel and get into the seed prescription game, a game currently dominated by the ag retailer.
Nope, not at all, counters Tatge.
“We don’t write prescriptions and we have no intention of getting into that business,” he says. “It’s one of those things where we think the best mix is that local relationship that already exists, and empowering those local relationships through the movement of data, and having that standardized format and having it be portable or easily exchangeable, that’s something that doesn’t happen in a lot of other systems that are out there.”