“Big Data” is a recent development in the digital language of agriculture. However, the ag industry has been dealing with large amounts of data for decades.

Farmers initially had lots of questions about making the transition to digital recordkeeping. As time has gone by, more and more farmers are successfully making the transition and finding out how much they can do with that data.

“We’ve always collected a lot of data in agriculture,” said Rick Myroup, senior director of product marketing for The Climate Corporation. “You can probably still go to a lot of farmers’ sheds and find shelves that bend in a ‘U’ shape because of all the three-ring binders full of maps and notes from over the years.

“What’s changed is our ability to do more and more things with that data. There are a lot of different data systems in agriculture today. Early on, they really didn’t work well together. What we’ve seen in recent years is more and more of these systems are becoming capable of working together.”

One of the things they do with Climate Corp’s FieldView data platform is make it as convenient as possible to get farmer data in one place. Once all that information is compiled, Myroup said it’s easier to figure out “what Decision A meant for Decision B” — meaning the farmer can clearly see how each decision affected productivity throughout the year.

“Farmers want to know how I can take my planting map or an application map and actually take that to yield,” he said, “so that I can see what the implication was of that at a sub-field level. Historically, it’s been difficult to understand how decisions affected different fields, let alone down to small parts of each field. We now have the ability to get information in the system that allows farmers, their dealers, and their consultants to be able to analyze that information and make better decisions because of it.”

He said one of farmers’ biggest concerns when it comes to their data is who controls it. Myroup said the biggest thing farmers have to do is take a look at the privacy policy of whatever entity they’re working with. Each agreement with a data company will have a privacy policy among the agreement.

“It’s important to figure out exactly what that company is going to do with that data,” Myroup said. “It’s important for each farmer to establish what control he has over the data. Who has the actual ownership of the farmer’s data?

“FieldView is very straightforward in our privacy policy. We believe the farmer owns their data. We commit to the farmer that we won’t sell, share, or utilize their data other than how it’s explicitly laid out in our privacy policy, without their express permission. If they decide to leave our system, we will delete the information at their request.”

He adds, “The farmer has to trust us to keep their information safe. We work with a number of industry partners to establish protocols to keep their data safe and secure. I’d be a little leery of doing business with a technology company that wasn’t willing to explicitly lay out the details in their privacy policy.”

Myroup said the one sure way to figure out whether or not a data system like FieldView works is see how many farmers already trust the company. He said usage is still the best testimonial for their product.

“Over the 4.5 years we’ve been in this market, we’ve grown to over 60 million acres enrolled in the FieldView platform,” he said. “We’ll actually run a year-long program called ‘Try It Before You Buy It’. Anyone that’s new to FieldView gets a free one-year subscription and a starter kit. The value is roughly $1,300. There are no restrictions through the first year of usage so farmers can see everything.”

But how computer-savvy do farmers need to be in order to run a data program like FieldView? Myroup said farmers don’t need college-level computer courses to make the system work. He likes to call the FieldView system “kindergarten ready.” In this case, that’s a literal description.

“I say that because my young daughter can navigate around the FieldView platform,” he said, smiling. “It’s designed that way on purpose. We start our farmer-customers off with the basics and they can do more advanced work with the system as they get more comfortable.

“We know these tools are new to the industry, so we have to keep them simple and efficient.”

He said the moral of the story is that farmers shouldn’t be afraid to use the technology.

“Know that it’s going to feel a little foreign at first,” he added. “The more you use a data platform, the more comfortable you’ll be. We’ve got a number of resources to help, including YouTube how-to videos, as well as customer support representatives always available. We’ll help you through any challenges you have.”

Chad Smith can be reached at chad.smith@midwestmessenger.com.