Executive Director of CAAR Mitch Rezansoff shared his immense knowledge and insight on using data to improve farm efficiency, data ownership and much more in his industry presentation “How Can We Benefit from Big Data?”

A crowd of students, university staff and industry members gathered at Barley Brothers restaurant and bar in Winnipeg on March 8 to hear Rezansoff speak about one of the most buzzworthy topics in the industry today.

“Before we’d even consider collecting data on a farm, we would spend three or four hours mapping out that entire operation for the year,” said Rezansoff, speaking about his time as Integrated Solutions managers with Manitoba equipment dealer Enns Brothers, a position that gave him experience working on integration between equipment, agronomics and data. “Then as we went through the year step-by-step, we would identify the roadblocks and decide what we wanted out of data to help streamline that operation.”

Rezansoff says that the immediate focus of data collection and use shouldn’t necessarily be on increasing yields or making more money. He says those things will come naturally with time if data is used to improve efficiencies in all aspect of the farm operation.

“Farmers tend to look at getting the highest yield and the highest price, and many don’t spend a lot of time looking at efficiency management,” says Rezansoff. “Some are great, but many are missing opportunities to reduce expenses just by being more efficient.

Through data management we can better utilize technology to make that farm more efficient all the way though.”

Thinking About Data

Rezansoff says there are many considerations farmers and retailers should take into account when thinking about data, one of which is privacy and confidentiality.

“The average amount of data collected from one acre of corn is about 15 MB. If you record every single acre, that’s a tremendous amount of data each year. You can’t store that on your home computer.”

But he says that there are many unanswered questions when it comes to who owns a farmer’s data, who has access to that data and what that data can be used for. Rezansoff says that data ownership should be handled similar to health records; available to those that need it but not available for just anyone.

“Farmers sometimes don’t want anyone to see their data, but then they want to be benchmarked against other farms. Well, then you have to share,” he says.

Rezansoff also challenged the audience to think less about big data as an entity unto itself, but as an aggregation of multiple data sources including yield data, climate data, soil data and the human component.

“It is important to collect a good variety of data,” he says. “Weather data is critical, and it’s a good example of innovative thinking. There’s a John Deere dealership in the Regina area, the only thing their weather station is recording is soil moisture. It doesn’t matter about rainfall, it matters what is in the soil a metre, or a metre and a half down.”

Rezansoff ended his presentation with a reminder to take the time and make a plan before “jumping in” with data, especially to address privacy, answering the questions of what the purpose of collecting the data is, who will own the data and who will have access to the data.

“These are questions farmers will be asking, and if you can’t definitively answer them, the farmer is probably going to say ‘no’ to data collection,” he says.

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