4. Evaluative Metrics. Evaluative metrics are scores and indices that provide feedback to both the retailer and customer that an operation has been successful. It can be as simple as an as-applied map which documents a fertilizer application on a field. Or, it can be an economic calculator that reports the bottom line on a daily basis by keeping track of the costs against the expected revenue from a harvested crop. Evaluative metrics form the basis of the Field-to-Market Fieldprint calculator with its tracking of sustainable practices for land use, soil conservation, soil carbon, irrigation water use, energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and soon to be added water quality.
Besides providing a quantification of success, evaluative metrics can provide measures of efficiency and risk. Decisions, with their subsequent actions and materials, can be organized in terms of crop, soil, weather, and pests. Materials applied in the same way and in the same amounts but in different environmental settings can have different outcomes in terms of a final yield. Retailers who identify which practices and materials work best in producers’ local environmental conditions can contribute to the efficient management of their fields. As one begins to understand what combinations of decisions work or do not work for a particular field and crop, then evaluative metrics can be used to define risk. A set of practices that always result in very good yields (low risk) may be more favorable than using a set of practices that result in fair yields with an occasional high yield (high risk). Evaluative metrics require that good records be kept about the production practices and yields for each field. Furthermore, these records must use a consistent set of variables and observational protocols as part of the collection process. These records would be considered part of the “big data” feed used to asses farming operations.
5. Market Feedback. Market feedback can be in two forms: quantity and quality. Market prices fluctuate based on the real or perceived quantities of produce available for purchase in the marketplace. It is the traditional supply and demand. If there is less produce for purchase, prices go up. If there is more produce, prices go down. Retailers have always been aware of the importance of quantity. However, quality is a little trickier to track. Like a fine wine, it is the combination of the choice of variety, soil, weather and practices. While many times, the quality of a crop is a function of weather, understanding the impact of seed, soil, and practices can give a producer an edge in the marketplace. More oil or protein in beans can translate into more dollars.
Market feedback can help define the end goal for a set of production practices. If the goal is higher protein in a crop, then special attention would be paid to those materials and practices and environmental conditions that meet this goal. As discussed in an earlier topic, evaluative metrics would come in to play to ensure that day-to-day decisions follow a production plan that would realize high-protein yields. Savvy retailers have long realized that while the market is the end point in production, it is the starting point in planning. In a world of better informed buyers, market feedback needs to be front and center for everyone involved in production.