Farm analytics: 6 key data points to track in your operation

Karl Bjelland
Farmstack

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If you’re not measuring and tracking data on the farm, it’s less clear what works for your operation.

Having worked with analytics and data in various professional contexts, I wanted to apply this knowledge within the context of our farming operation. We have years of interesting manually tracked data ranging from basic book keeping and crop yields, to field scouting notes, grain sales, and more. This, combined with all of the automated tracking gathered using MyJohnDeere and other AgTech enabled devices presented some interesting challenges, namely, the data existed but it wasn’t centralized or workable.

With an interesting problem to solve I started playing around with a few solutions, I wanted something simple to use like an Excel spreadsheet, but the power of an AgTech application, without being locked into someone else’s system (high demands, I know). After some searching and testing products, I was surprised to find many solutions existed but lacked any focus on what producers can utilize day to day on the farm. Because of this, I landed on a building out a completely customized Airtable. Airtable is part spreadsheet, part database and can be used to build lightweight applications (perfect to meet my high demands).

After several weeks aggregating datasets and tweaking the Airtable to suit our farm needs, my solution to track key farm metrics came together nicely. The data can be organized in many different ways (by year, farm location, crop type, yield, etc.), not to mention we can ask simple questions of the data and use the answers to take concrete farm actions and make business decisions (ex: I want to see all fields with yields exceeding a yield of 50 bushels an acre, from 2019 and 2020). Integrated farm analytics tracking and analysis have become an integral part of our farm’s operation. Here’s a few ways we utilize data:

  • Making sell decisions
  • Historic comparison
  • Forecasting yield, costs, and more
  • Knowing the total bushels we have to sell
  • Following total acreage cropped each year to year

There’s an endless number of things we could track on the farm and then there’s the things we do track, knowing the difference is equally as important as good tracking. In this post we’ll take a look at six basic farm metrics we’re tracking and recommend tracking in your operation:

1.) Average bushel price
We talk about this one a lot because it’s important. Simply, average bushel price is the price received for your wheat year over year, one figure to help measure and smooth the ups and downs of farming. Average bushel price is arguably the simplest and most effective health measure of a farming operation year over year. Operational growth (profitability) is essential to know where your operation stands throughout the year, helping you confidently manage risk, enable bench-marking and operational forecasting, and simplify your decision making. Check out previous posts part one, two, and three detailing average bushel price.

2.) Cost per acre
Understanding your cost per acre, by field and overall, is critical to operational success. Selling $10k of wheat does not mean you made $10k. How much does it cost to operate? You’re going to have fields that are more expensive than others — on some land you may have high lease payments to cover, other ground may require additional spraying. A thorough accounting of costs broken down by field and overall to arrive at an itemized cost per acre is optimal, a few things to consider building into your costs per acre:

  • Labor
  • Seed
  • Fertilizer
  • Chemical
  • Fuel
  • Insurance
  • Storage
  • Taxes

3.) Revenue per acre
If the goal is profitability closely tracking revenue per acre by field and overall is equally as critical. In the same way that you’ll have fields costing more, you’ll have fields making more. In some cases profit maximization per acre is the difference between owning versus leasing land, weather conditions, or timing of spraying or seeding. Tracking revenue per acre by field alongside cost per acre will show you areas of optimization and improvement. Pro tip — all of these breakdowns by field are made 100x easier with an efficient field naming structure, check out our previous post detailing naming fields.

4.) Average yield
Similar to your average bushel price, your average yield is an excellent number to know at all times and continuously track year to year. I like to break down all of our data by field, crop type, variety, and overall, and track these year to year. As a no-till farming operation we consider our crop rotation carefully, having some historic insight to back up our thought process can ease the decision making come fall and spring planting. Additionally, tracking yields closely gives an accurate picture of marketable grain on hand, and potentially what you can expect next growing season.

5.) Seed, spray, & harvest dates
Event tracking is an interesting one. While it can be rather tedious to always remember in real time to log dates of activity (or recall afterwards), it’s a useful point of reference to monitor and compare the growing season annually. Personally I like to log seed dates, spraying applications, and harvest dates per field. I use this data to estimate the growing season compared with our past growing seasons. For example, knowing the last three seasons our average winter wheat growing season from planting to harvesting is 328 days is valuable in determining what fields to seed in the fall or estimating and planning needed harvest resources within a select time frame.

6.) Crop variety
Generally on our farm we know what works well on what land and we seldom deviate from specific varieties of winter wheat and spring wheat. Even so, I make a point to always record what variety is planted by field. Soil type and growing conditions differ significantly across a farm, tracking crop variety helps with planning crop rotations, or understanding what works best on each individual field.

Bottom line—if you’re not measuring and tracking data on the farm, it’s less clear what works for your operation. Striking a balance between what’s actionable and what’s easy to record is the name of the game. Stay tuned for more posts on the topic of agriculture data and utility on the farm. Feel free to reach out if you’re interested in knowing more about working with farm metrics and getting started with data tracking.

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Karl Bjelland
Farmstack

Fourth generation farmer. Co-founder Farmstack, Statehill (acquired 2018).