18 May How Farmers Business Network brings the wisdom of crowds to planting corn
Steve Pitstick has been farming for 42 years. He grows corn and soybean in Illinois.
Pitstick, who has always been tech savvy, recalls using PC cards to transport data from his farming equipment to his beige PC. As the digital revolution has unfolded, Pitstick has watched it get easier and easier to monitor what’s happening in his fields. Today information on his soybeans automatically flows from his machinery, to his iPad and then to the cloud.
Pitstick heard the team from Farmers Business Network give a presentation at a convention. Sixty seconds in he was hooked. So this January, he begin paying $500 a year to join the crowdsourced service that lets farmers share information, such as which seed varieties grow best in different soils, or how much space to put between seeds. Farmers Business Network anonymizes and aggregates the data to uncover insights that farmers otherwise wouldn’t have available to them.
“In my individual operation I don’t get to see enough in one year,” Pitstick said. “A production cycle is one year, it’s not like a factory where you have a production cycle every day. But by combining with other top producers we can combine our information in an aggregate form — not knowing who each other are — but looking at it all combined, and then we’re able to see trends.”
Pitstick said the information he saw gave him confidence to plant certain seed hybrids in different soil types. His 2,600-acre operation features 40 different soil types — with varying levels of sand, clay and loam — so there’s plenty of opportunity to optimize seeds for different soils.
In the past Pitstick looked at data from the seed companies, but said those data sets aren’t as large as what he’s seeing on Farmers Business Network, which also has the advantage of being independent.
“It’s totally neutral is what I like about it,” Pitstick said. “It’s not connected to anybody so there’s not an agenda there, if you will, that a seed company might have to sell more product.”
Farmers Business Network says it will never sell a farmer’s data without consent, and that this rule will apply to anyone who ever buys or acquires the company.
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