The Currency Of Precision

Data are the foundation for decisionmaking in any enterprise but the complexity of their realization and their importance as a “currency” in the flow of information are overlooked by many practitioners.

The concept of data as currency is intriguing because it embodies the exchange of something that has value and ownership. Before delving into the question of ownership, it may be informative to discuss some technical aspects of data, especially from the perspective of their derivation for use in decisionmaking.

While a technical discussion may seem dry and boring on the first read, it does emphasize the steps necessary to realize “good” data. After the discussion, the reader may better appreciate the dictum that a decision is only as good as the data it is based on.

Numbers become data when they are reported with units. When we say a grower produced 100 bushels per acre, it is explicitly understood that a crop was measured in terms of yield over an area and implicitly understood that the yield was accumulated over a growing season. In fact, a more complete expression for the units of production would be 100 bushels per acre per growing season. To be useful as information for decision making, data must be reported in some quantity over space and time. The finer the spatial and temporal resolutions of data, the more information we have about some phenomenon such as crop production.

Data, especially in the form of recorded numbers, are considered “raw” and must be “cleaned” before being accepted as credible information. That data are first considered raw upon collection can easily be appreciated by anyone who has worked with yield monitors. As a harvester moves and turns across a field with different speeds, the amount of yield recorded by a monitor can vary greatly. In fact, it is very common to find unrealistically high and low yield values due to the recording limitations of a monitor. The measured yields, which include extreme values, are considered “raw” data. These raw data must be post processed to remove the extreme values or “outliers.” The post-processed data are considered a “clean” source of information for decision making.

Hitting The Target

As part of the measurement process, every datum has an associated “precision” and “accuracy” in order to quantify the degree to which a number is close to the “true” value and the degree to which it is repeatable. The popular archery analogy may help to explain precision and accuracy. An archer shoots a number of arrows at a target consisting of a bull’s-eye (true value) surrounded by rings. If arrows are clustered close together right on the bull’s-eye of the target, then the archer has high precision and high accuracy. If arrows are clustered close together on the target but centered on an outer ring far from the bull’s-eye, then the archer has high precision and low accuracy. If arrows are far apart on different rings but centered on the bull’s-eye of the target, then the archer has low precision and high accuracy. The accuracy of a recording device can be improved by the process of calibration but precision is an inherent limitation due to design. The precision and accuracy of a datum is expressed mathematically as a number plus or minus an “uncertainty interval” at a stated level of confidence. In the example of the yield monitor, the harvested yield of a crop could be 100 +/- 5 bushels per acre at a 95% confidence level.

Knowledge about the uncertainty of a datum is important for decisionmaking. The larger the uncertainty interval associated with a datum at a given confidence level, the greater the risk in a decision. For a given uncertainty interval, the lower the confidence level associated with a datum, the greater the risk in a decision. A production manager relying on monitored yields clearly wants a small uncertainty interval with a high level of confidence when making decisions. For typical crop production decisions, the confidence level is usually set at 90% or higher when determining an uncertainty interval associated with a datum. The manager is then guided by the uncertainty interval when making a decision using the datum.

It is apparent from the previous discussion that the realization of “good” data takes some effort. However, once the effort becomes routine, a manager will have confidence in the data and subsequently in the decisions made with the data. If the procedure for recording and reporting data follows a standard, then the realized data can be a shared among different farming operations. Before discussing this sharing of data as the “currency” of precision agriculture, the issue of ownership needs to be addressed.

A Continuing Debate

The question of data ownership has been debated since the beginning of precision agriculture. There are several positions on ownership. They range from growers own data because they were collected on their farms to companies own data because they were incorporated into services. Some argue that whoever pays for data, owns the data. Others argue that whoever collects the data, owns the data. The question of ownership ultimately comes down to the agreement made between the grower and the person or entity collecting and/or generating data to support decision making. To avoid any misunderstanding, this agreement should be explicit and in writing. The agreement should specify the rights of individuals or other entities as to the collection, storage, and use of data. It should also address any backup, security, and privacy issues.

As new equipment and information technologies are introduced into precision agriculture, the volume of data realized in a production cycle will continue to grow at an increasing rate. The sharing of these data as a “currency” across communities will benefit not only the participants but contribute to the information flow within the industry.

Leave a Reply

Precision Ag Stories
Precision AgGoogle Glass: New Tool For Ag
October 8, 2014
New wearable smart technologies such as Google Glass show potential to greatly impact how we accomplish the business of feeding the world. Read More
Precision AgPrecision Agriculture: Finding The Payback
September 6, 2014
Profitability in precision ag is not about any one technology, but the result of employing technology in a total system approach that is agronomically sound. Read More
Precision AgUAS: The S Stands For Smart, Service And Sensors
May 1, 2014
The only thing occuring more rapidly than the technologies’ evolution is the clamoring to implement UAS into agriculture as soon as possible. Read More
Precision AgAg Retail: 3 Tech Trends To Watch In 2014
April 1, 2014
It's been a busy first quarter of technology developments in 2014. Here are some of the highlights, and things to watch in the months ahead. Read More
Top 100 Articles
Milan Kucerak, president/CEO, West Central
CropLife 100West Central Cooperative And Its New President Are A Match Made In Deviation
June 29, 2015
To appreciate just how unique West Central Cooperative is in the world of ag retail, an observer need only consider Read More
Winter Wheat
CropLife 100South Dakota Co-op Member Owners Vote No On Unification
June 26, 2015
The Boards of Directors for North Central Farmers Elevator (NCFE) and Wheat Growers (WG) have announced that member-owners have voted Read More
CropLife 100The Andersons Acquires South Dakota Plant Nutrient Manufacturer Kay-Flo
May 20, 2015
The Andersons, Inc., ranked No. 22 on the CropLife 100, has purchased Kay Flo Industries of North Sioux City, SD. “This Read More
CropLife 100AgGateway’s Barcoding Initiative Progressing Nicely
May 8, 2015
According to legend (or Wikipedia), the first step towards modern bar codes came back in 1948, when Bernard Silver, a Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Acquires Minnesota Retailer
April 14, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC, ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100,  has successfully acquired Liebl Ag, LLC in Ada, MN.  Read More
CropLife 100CHS, Aurora Cooperative Complete Fertilizer Storage, Grain Shuttle Loading Facility
April 13, 2015
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading cooperative and ranked No. 5 on the CropLife 100, and Aurora Cooperative (ranked No. 21) Read More
Latest News
Agworld Apple Watch Farm Management
EquipmentAussie Data Management Software Company Making Its Mark…
July 4, 2015
Western-Australia-based Agworld — having fully launched its data management software system stateside last year after a 2013 soft launch — Read More
Topcon AGI-4 on MF Planter
EquipmentAutosteer: Compatibility, Accuracy Remain Top Of Mind
July 3, 2015
The world of automatic steering solutions in agriculture has evolved rapidly in the last few years. From after-market add-ons that Read More
ManagementUnited Suppliers/Land ‘O Lakes Merger & Crop Update
July 2, 2015
CropLife’s Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the reasons behind the United Suppliers/Land ‘O Lakes merger and USDA’s recent Read More
Industry NewsBioSafe Adds To Sales Force
July 2, 2015
BioSafe Systems has announced the hire of two new members for its service team. David Britt recently joined the team Read More
Chesapeake Bay
ManagementChesapeake Bay Clean-Up Gets Renewed Attention
July 2, 2015
The Chesapeake Bay has been called one of the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world. It’s also one of Read More
Measuring Bulk Tanks
ManagementBulk Pesticide Compliance: Top 10 Areas Of Improvement …
July 1, 2015
  In honor of the 33-year run of David Letterman’s Late Show, the American Agronomic Stewardship Alliance (AASA) is happy Read More
Industry NewsArysta North America Hires Midwest Sales Manager
July 1, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced the hiring of Brian Battles as the Senior Technical Sales Manager for the Midwest Read More
Farmer on tablet
Eric SfiligojThe Never-Ending Battle Against Modern Agriculture
July 1, 2015
In the world of comic books, the character of Superman often refers to the fight to save the world as Read More
Retail FacilitiesBuilding Up Ag Retail
July 1, 2015
In the oftentimes unpredictable world we live in, it’s nice to know some things can be reliably countered on to Read More
Retail FacilitiesMaple River Grain And Agronomy Phases In Site Developme…
July 1, 2015
Marcus Construction helped Maple River Grain and Agronomy in Casselton, ND, with the design-build of its dry fertilizer, liquid chemical/seed Read More
Retail FacilitiesA&B Welding Builds A New Liquid Terminal Hub For Br…
July 1, 2015
To build its new hub facility, Briggs Crop Nutrients enlisted the help of A&B Welding. The result, an efficient facility Read More
Edon Farmers Co-op
Retail FacilitiesNew Marcus Facility At Edon Farmers Co-op Provides More…
July 1, 2015
Edon Farmers Co-Op in Edon, OH, needed a new facility to consolidate outdated locations. Marcus Construction was able to design Read More
Retail FacilitiesKinder Morgan Expands Its Storage With A New Dome Barre…
July 1, 2015
Kinder Morgan wanted additional covered storage at its Dakota Bulk Terminal on the Mississippi River in St. Paul, MN. With Read More
Retail FacilitiesHeartland Tank Protects Fertilizer From Extreme Cold At…
July 1, 2015
The Arthur Companies in Harvey, ND, enlisted the help of Heartland Tank Companies to develop a new liquid fertilizer facility Read More
The McGregor Co. fertilizer loadout
Retail FacilitiesThe McGregor Co. Partners With Kahler Automation To Cre…
June 30, 2015
Kahler Automation helped The McGregor Co. expand its Clarkston, WA, operation with unstaffed loadout technology that enables customers to pick Read More
Dry and Liquid Plant
Retail FacilitiesKahler Automation Helps CHS Dakota Ag Cooperative Build…
June 30, 2015
CHS Dakota Ag Cooperative in Mooreton, ND, wanted a liquid/dry blender system that could meet the needs of its customers Read More
Crop InputsLand O’Lakes, United Suppliers To Merge Crop Inpu…
June 29, 2015
Land O’Lakes, Inc. and United Suppliers, Inc. of Ames, IA, today announced their intent to merge their crop inputs businesses. Read More
FungicidesHelena To Distribute Unique Summit Agro Fungicide
June 29, 2015
RANMAN 400 SC fungicide, the only fungicide with a FRAC group 21 designation, is now part of the innovative Summit Read More