What Am I Supposed To Do With It?
What matters is the actual value you are getting out of your data.
“But wait,” you say, “if my neighbor has my yield map he can outbid me for cash rent.” I suppose this is possible, but you might ask yourself if the tables were turned and you have your neighbor’s yield map, would this really give you any advantage in outbidding him on cash rent for that field of his around the corner? If your cash rent market is competitive, you’re deciding what to bid for cash rent based largely on what you think you can afford to pay. Your neighbor is doing the same. If he gets the contract instead of you, then you already know that he thinks he can get higher or more efficient yields than you can from that ground. Your net actionable knowledge is the same whether you had his yield map or not. You can probably just drive by his field around the end of August and get a pretty good idea of what he can pay for cash rent. No GPS satellites or nefarious conspiracies to steal data necessary. Or just ask him at the coffee shop tomorrow morning and subtract about 20% to get his actual yields.
It is worth pointing out that you can already figure out all the soil types for any of your neighbors’ farms using the USDA’s Soil Survey tool here for free: http://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/WebSoilSurvey.aspx. See the screenshot below for an example. This data probably is quite relevant to what you can afford to bid for cash rent on your neighbor’s farm, but are you using it? I didn’t think so. It’s “valuable,” publicly available data about your particular farm. It can be used to estimate the yields you are getting from your farm. And its availability to your competitors hasn’t had much impact on your daily life.
Example freely available soils type data from USDA’s Soil Survey 
On the other hand, if you had the exact cash rent amounts that your neighbor pays on each of his fields, and a list of all his landlords and their addresses and phone numbers, that would be a different story. Clearly there is some data that is very valuable to other people. The trouble is that this data (largely financial data) is not something anyone in the cloud discussion is talking about. There are no companies out there trying to trick us into putting our cash rent amounts into their cloud so they can secretly release it to our competitors. The data in question here is mostly data related to making your crops grow: fertilizer, seed, yield, etc.
There are certainly people who have a high potential to derive non-economic value from your data, such as those activist groups bent on the destruction of modern production agriculture. This is where privacy and security of your data becomes important, which we will discuss in later installments in this series. In your daily life, however, it is the economic value of your data to you that should be most important.
So how can we get more economic value from our data? This is precisely the question that the industry has been struggling to answer since yield monitors first came on the scene. The fact that this is still a pressing question should be incontrovertible proof of two fundamental problems:
- it is hard to figure out how to turn data into real economic value,
- and there is no single “right answer” that works for everyone’s farm in the world.
So if you’re struggling to figure out why you’ve been keeping all those yield maps for years, don’t worry, you’re not alone. If you have trouble understanding how data can be used on your farm, in particular, you’re a member of a very large club. In the next installment, we’re going to look at some concrete ways that data could be used on your farm to make things better.
Aaron Ault is the OADA Project Lead and a Senior Research Engineer at the Open Ag Technology Group at Purdue University.
 Screencapture of website at http://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/WebSoilSurvey.aspx