Editorial: Farmers have a YEN for more useful data

A key metric for Yield Enhancement Networks is percentage of potential yield.

I was sitting in the livestock pavilion at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus during the SouthWest Agricultural Conference when I first heard about yield enhancement networks and thought they were a great idea.

A cross-border version of the Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) was recently announced for wheat in Ontario and Michigan. It aims to boost yields of the crop and make it more attractive in crop rotations.

Being part of a YEN requires work and investment, for sure, but the comprehensive data should provide rich information on a farm-by-farm basis about what factors limit yield.

Some farmers already harvest a lot of data about their crops, but I doubt anyone piles in all the data and testing that comes from participation in a YEN.

The idea originated in Britain where they have done detailed on-farm work that initially looked at yield limiting factors for wheat and other cereals, and then examined peas and soybeans more recently.

Sports data and measurement has exploded in recent years. It amazes me that analysts can immediately know what type of pitch has been thrown by a baseball pitcher and how it affects overall averages.

It has spawned Corsi, an advanced hockey metric that brings together multiple data points. Corsi is an advanced statistic to measure shot attempt differential while at even strength play. This includes shots on goal, missed shots on goal and blocked shot attempts toward the opposition’s net minus the same shot attempts directed at your own team’s net.

It’s struck me that the YEN idea for crops is similar — the use of advanced analytics to create new measurements of success.

A key metric for YENs is percentage of potential yield. That means there has to be enough data to determine what the potential yield could be for a particular farm. Then the yield and inputs must be measured accurately enough to determine how close to potential yield a field and its management by a farmer has gotten.

That sounds like the complexity of the Corsi measurement.

The YEN also provides benchmarking data compared to other farmers in the region — in fact across about 60 different measures — also a bit like the vast amount of data that is compared in sports.

There are people who love data and mine it for profit and to advance their line of work. There are others who do things more by traditional knowledge, gut and feel.

That’s another similarity to sports. There are hockey traditionalists who decry the dedication to statistics when making hockey choices. In the same way, there will be those who see crop production as more intuition than data. There’s room in the industry for both.

But as a data guy, I find all that information produced by a YEN pretty exciting.

I also keep in mind the advice sage farmers gave me long ago that it’s one thing to chase yield, but quite another to do it profitably. It’s not always the highest yielding farmers who are the most profitable. But I also believe that the profitable farmers have the data to know what it means to chase the yield and can identify where the profitability point exists on their farm.

Let’s not mow all the ditches

There was another report recently of an older farmer who died when the tractor he was driving rolled while mowing a ditch.

I understand the drive to keep things neat. I have some defined ditch areas that I keep trimmed.

However, we’ve lost too many older farmers, who have been mowing slopes that are too risky to mow. They’re looking for a way to contribute, to still run a tractor and they like to keep things neat. But we need to step in and say no, or we risk losing more of them unnecessarily.

About the author

Editor

John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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