As dealers explore expansion into precision data management service offerings for farm customers, one of the major industry challenges is a uniform method for gathering, storing and analyzing information.

But one group is working toward a standardized approach to data management.

Last October, AgGateway’s Precision Ag Council launched a project to improve the data exchange processes that drive the use of precision farming products for seeding, tillage, spraying, fertilizing and harvesting. The Standardized Precision Ag Data Exchange (SPADE) recently developed a set of criteria for both private and public entities to simplify and streamline data management processes.

“This certainly isn’t a new issue,” notes SPADE Project Chairman Joe Tevis, director of Agronomic Products and Services at Topcon Precision Agriculture. “But the goal of a uniform standard in data management is being driven by the end user and we recognize they aren’t going to give up.”

To that end, 31 companies and organizations — ranging from precision ag and farm equipment manufacturers to input retailers and co-ops — collaborated on the project.

The result of phase one of the SPADE project is a set of four recommended standard data management planning documents.

“We wanted to standardize the content and format of these plans, so that they can be used across multiple operations and by multiple parties,” explains Tevis. “So if it’s a grower working with their seed dealer, their machinery dealer or the government, everyone is speaking the same language.”

The four planning document standards recommended by the SPADE project are:

Field Plan: This includes a description of the grower’s field boundaries, identification of the crops and the grower using a Global Location Number (GLN) as developed by the Agricultural Electronics Industry Foundation (AEF).

Recommendation: This includes the planting prescription information, what type of seed is being used and when, as well as the types and amounts of fertilizer being applied.

Work Order: This is the final planning document to be implemented in the field. The work order dictates what equipment and inputs go into the field and what growers want out of their plan.

Work Record: This is the end result of the plan and the data that comes back into a farmer’s office. The work record gives farmers an explanation of what happened in their field to include as-applied data, coverage maps of where implements went through the field, spatial denotation of application rates and machine performance.

“With these standards, we can identify a particular seed and follow it all the way through the ag retailer and to the field and back, which is something that wasn’t possible before,” Tevis says. “The same standard can be applied to other concepts like grower identification and machinery performance.”

Another goal with the standardization of planning documents is to aid in government compliance reporting, such as crop plans to the Farm Service Agency (FSA), crop insurance reports with the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and USDA conservation program applications.

“We could automate this whole process by keeping in mind what the requirements are when developing the documents,” Tevis says. “I’ve worked with all three groups on this plan.”

While the SPADE project did not take an official position on data ownership, Tevis says he’s always taken the view that it is the grower’s data and he or she can decide what to do with it.

“Certainly, a lot of growers’ data ends up in the hands of other people. It’s up to that third party, whether it be a farm equipment dealer or seed dealer, to manage that relationship with the grower,” he says. “We’re trying not to get in the middle of those relationships.”

As the first phase of the SPADE project winds down, the planning recommendations still need approval from AgGateway and the AEF. Tevis notes this process will take some time, but he is hopeful that the SPADE project will move forward with additional phases of data management standardization in the not too distant future.

“The next step will be specifying how those plans will be implemented and the final phase would be actual implementation,” he says. “It’s a long process and some people may feel as if there’s no tangible deliverables, but I disagree.

“This first phase has been the hardest part, and getting several groups to work together is what needs to happen to accomplish our goal. No one group owns the whole precision data process.”

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