Podcast: 12. Aaron Seifert - Getting the most out of your data
In precision ag, you can’t talk about harvest without talking about data. For years many of us have been collecting data, but knowing how to stretch that data into insights can be a challenge. When you want to move from a colorful map to meaningful decisions, Premier Crop System’s data analysis services might be the place to turn.
In episode 12 of the Precision Point podcast, I sat down with Aaron Seifert, business development manager with Premier Crop Systems, to discuss how to leverage data. Whether you are just starting to collect field-level data or if you have a large archive, their services aim to reduce all of those data points into real knowledge that can impact your decision making on the farm.
The first step is to help growers understand the variability throughout the field. Historical yield data is a great place to start, and it is used to understand which places are over performing expectations and under performing. This gives a quick look at above ground data, the next step is to look at underground variability with soil sample data if it is available. Application data is also a valuable layer, especially if you have applied variable rate inputs. Then comes the analysis.
“The real value in all the data you collect is in the relationships between the different layers of data,” Aaron mentioned. “So that’s what we like to do at Premier Crop, make sure we’re sorting through those different layers- finding correlations and finding relationships in places where you had success as a grower and produced that yield really efficiently; and maybe in places where you need to manage your risk more because you're not producing yield as efficiently.”
All of this comes together to understand the spatial economics of each bushel the field produced, summarized by Premier Crop’s yield efficiency score. Aaron talks about how trying things like variable rate and seeing a yield bump in the monitor can feel great, but at the end of the day you still may not know if that was economically efficient. The data helps validate and prove what we are trying in the field. The economic analysis at the end of the year really increases the value of your data and closes the loop on if the decisions we made were the right ones.
When considering the data we get off our fields, it really starts in the planning part of our season. Aaron talks through the blocks of data that they can help you set up in your field to test different management styles. They call these areas Learning Blocks and customize the size and trials to your operation.
“Now, what I think is exciting is just trying to help growers learn faster,” Aaron said in reference to Premier Crop’s Learning Blocks. “So instead of just doing a one rate check, we can do three rates or four rates and we will randomize and replicate it so it's almost like a research plot in your own field. Where, you just get to farm it and get research-quality data back.”
When we get to the end of the season it's important to recognize that not all data is created equally. The teams at Premier Crop have several steps to validate the data that comes in, working alongside the growers. Depending on the data layers you choose to use, much of this also starts with planting but needs to be consistent throughout the growing season and harvest. Things like keeping field names consistent and calibrating your yield monitor can go a long way to generating clean, accurate data.
Several times throughout the interview Aaron referred to the value of data. This led me to ask about data security and how growers can protect their data. Premier Crop’s philosophy is that the data is the growers’ data alone. Therefore once it comes in it doesn’t leave unless the grower asks for it back.
Regardless of the equipment type or data storage, Premier Crop can help bring it in and help you get started with analysis. If you're already collecting the data, you might be able to look at it in a new way that makes every dollar go a little further. If you’re interested in learning more about Premier Crop Systems, check out the full interview above.
Have you used Premier Crop Systems’ data services? Leave a review here.
Host: Morgan Seger
Guest: Aaron Seifert, Premier Crop Systems
Morgan Seger: (00:22)
Welcome back to Precision Points: An Ag Tech Podcast from precisionagreviews.com. I'm your host Morgan Seger and in each episode, we strive to bring you unbiased ag tech information and ideas. And as we are full swing into harvest now, what better topic than what to do with all this harvest data? Today on the show I have Aaron Seifert from Premier Crop Systems and he walks through what to do with all of our data and how to extract the most value out of it. One of my favorite things he covered on this conversation is unearthing the economics of each bushel. Like he says, in this show not every bushel is created equally and I think as growers, that's what we're after. How to capture more economic bushels. And that really starts with understanding first where those acres are and then second, why they are or are not more profitable and how we can manage what we're doing to those acres to really draw out the economics that we're after. So Aaron kind of walks through how we can do that with our data in this episode.
Morgan Seger: (01:30)
Welcome back to Precision Points. Today on the show I'm joined by my friend, Aaron Seifert from Premier Crop Systems. Welcome to the show, Aaron.
Aaron Seifert: (01:38)
Hey Morgan. Thanks for having me, really appreciate it. Yeah. Just looking forward to a great conversation today.
Morgan Seger: (01:46)
So I've worked with you in the past and you have the best energy and attitude, and as we work through this podcast we really try to keep our content in the same season as our growers are in. So I'm excited to dive deep into data today and I think your attitude is going to make it so much fun. So I'm really looking forward to it. But before we get started, could you take a couple minutes to just introduce yourself to your audience and tell them your background?
Aaron Seifert: (02:15)
Yeah, absolutely. I don't know. I'll try to keep up with your energy, Morgan. I appreciate that. I grew up in Southern Minnesota, was a, am still a lifelong farm kid. I like to say. So all my families were involved in agriculture from both production row crops as well as livestock. So I have seen a bunch of different things in agriculture, obviously a little bit more general to the Midwest here with corn and soybeans, but get some exposure now from your crop and some other things. So I got my start in precision ag over a decade ago on the hardware side, selling and supporting precision ag hardware pieces, aftermarket installs, things like that for growers and for retailers, just love being in the ag industry and I thought the technology side was just a great fit for the things that I like to do. So was in the hardware side for a while and then I got the opportunity to move more on the software side, which is where you and I had the pleasure of working together.
Aaron Seifert: (03:14)
And did some work in the precision ag software world for a little while with you and where we were at there and then now I'm with Premier Crop Systems and have the ability and the opportunity to spread a little bit even further West. So I'm a business development manager with Premier Crop Systems where Western territory manage Nebraska and Kansas as well as getting into some of the Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming's and things like that. So it's been really interesting to get out there and get to know those growers and retailers and their operations and the cropping systems and all that, that's different than maybe where I grew up. So that's been a lot of fun and really what we try to do more at Premier Crop is work with growers and help them understand the variability that exists in their operations and then use their data to better manage that, help find, yield and profit limiting factors and just really help them make the most out of their input decisions.
Morgan Seger: (04:15)
Interesting. So I know just reading through the website it says that you guys really try to help growers leverage their own data. So when you're working with growers, is this starting at the end of the season where you have this data collected and you're analyzing it, or does it start in the beginning of the season in more of the planning stages?
Aaron Seifert: (04:38)
Yeah. Good question. We've been around for 20 years and historically we've really been more of that, what I like to call kind of a report card company. We really help analyze at the end of the year. We are moving more towards the planning side of things as well. So it's exciting where we're going right now. We do a really good job on the back end in the analysis piece and since we're already doing that hard work, the granular sub acre data work, what we're working on now is just rolling that piece up and allowing growers and retailers and their advisors to help growers plan based on some of the data that we already have in the system that we know. So a little bit of both actually. We're really diving into the planning world right now and it's pretty exciting to see that come to fruition here as we move into 2021.
Aaron Seifert: (05:28)
But historically, much more on the analytics side and taking the data that is collected by growers throughout the season, and then finalizing it with that report card of the yield data, and then once we bring that all in and we sort through it, look at all the different layers and I hear a lot of people say, "My data's worth stuff," and it absolutely is. Every piece of data that you collect out there as a grower is worth something. What I like to say though, is once you bring it all together is where the real value is. The real value and all the data you collect is in the relationships between the different layers of data and so that's what we like to do at Premier Crop, make sure we're sorting through those different layers, finding correlations and finding relationships in places where you've had successes as a grower and produce that yield really efficiently, and maybe in places where you need to manage your risk more where you're not producing yield quite as efficiently. So just helping every dollar matter more from the input side of things.
Morgan Seger: (06:24)
Gotcha. So I know as new technology and different things have come to market, I feel like more growers are looking at their data. Some of these different things have made it easier to visualize the data and move the data, but there still seems to be a pretty big gap between the millions of data points we're collecting and the way we're using them. What would be the first step for a grower who's been collecting data but hasn't been doing a lot with it yet? What would that first step look like?
Aaron Seifert: (06:54)
Yeah, no, I think that's a very fair point. We have a tons of data every time we move across the field and like you said, there's just millions of data points and what do y'all do with it? And I think that's part of it, is us at the Premier Crop, what we really try to do is help people make sense of that data, and like I said, explore the relationships between the different layers and really find those pieces that make sense. So as you're starting out, you are collecting typically ... most growers are collecting data as they grow across the field. So what it is for us is yield data, is just kind of the Bible, is how we kind of refer to it.
Aaron Seifert: (07:26)
It is a report card is what actually happen out in the field and so if you've got historical yield data, that's just a great place to start. We can bring in that yield data and start to understand where those spots in the field are that just consistently over-performed. Whether it's a wet year, a dry year, there are spots that over-performed. And then same with the underperform. We like to take a fairly simple approach in saying, "Hey, let's be aggressive in those zones that consistently over-perform, and let's manage our risk in the zones that consistently underperform." And then we still treat the rest of the field fairly average on how they're probably farming it today. So bringing the yield data in and starting to understand that variability piece is huge and that's the above ground piece.
Aaron Seifert: (08:07)
And then there's also the below ground. So getting a handle on the variability that exists both above ground and below ground before you attempt to change things. It's important to understand where that variability is coming from and what it looks like before we really try to change anything. So soil samples, we have a lot of growers that don't use soil samples and that's fine too, but if you're interested in a more robust dataset and really understanding both above and below ground, soil samples are a huge part of that and then obviously, like I said, the yield file.
Morgan Seger: (08:37)
Gotcha. And then how does that layering work? So you would potentially be looking at yield data and soil samples, and those could be indicators of field variability. Are you looking at application layers and things like that as well?
Aaron Seifert: (08:55)
Yeah, absolutely. Our goal, like I said, is to try to bring in every piece of data we can, every data layer that we can and sort through and look for the relationships between those. And the other part of it is, anytime that you're doing something, variable rate, anytime that you're doing something spatially like that, where you're applying more of a product in one area and less of a product in another, we like to get that as applied maps so we can really help to understand both agrinomically what the impact of those higher rates were as well as economically. Because everything we do economically has an economic impact. So it's important to know that what I'm doing is actually profitable or maybe it isn't, because at the end of the day yield is great. But if I can't take more money at the bank at the end of the year, then maybe my efforts weren't the right ones.
Morgan Seger: (09:42)
So you're looking at economic spatially across the field?
Aaron Seifert: (09:46)
Absolutely. Yep. Absolutely. And it's really helpful to help define management zones. We can really start to see that. Yeah, we're spending more money in these A zones, we like to call them that we're more aggressive in, but we're also getting more returned. Our cost per bushel is lower because we can produce those bushels efficiently. And naturally what it comes down to, what we like to call our yield efficiency score, is how efficiently am I producing a bushel? So in different parts of the field that's different and in different fields that bushel is created differently. Not all bushels are created equal. So in certain parts of a field it may take more resources to grow that bushel, or different resources or products to grow that bushel. So just having an understanding on what it takes to drill those bushels efficiently so I get to return more dollars to my pocket.
Aaron Seifert: (10:33)
I like to say, just from a variable rate perspective, I've done variable rate in the past on my own operation and would do the things that were recommended and I'd put more fertilizer in a certain area. I'd plant more seeds in an area and as I was combining, I might've saw a little bit of a yield bump and thought, "Hey, that will work pretty good," and high-fived my agronomist and I go home. But at the end of the day, I really have no idea if that was more profitable or not. And so what we really like to do and make sure that we do consistently is validate and prove to the growers that what we're doing out there from a variable rate perspective is actually paying.
Aaron Seifert: (11:07)
That is the right thing. I think that's a big part of why a lot of growers like you talked about earlier were collecting data but were not using it. Because people have tried it and maybe haven't closed the loop on if what I was doing was actually the right thing. So we make sure that that's at the forefront for us is being able to prove to a grower that what we're doing is the right thing to do. And we do that in different ways. We do learning blocks, which are just basically check blocks in your variable rates script that you do nothing different as a grower and just farm, but then at the end of the day we can evaluate whether that was the right rate. We'll check that rate low or high or both and say, "Okay, maybe I need to tweak my rates a little bit population or fertility."
Aaron Seifert: (11:52)
And then now I think what's exciting is just trying to help growers learn faster. So instead of just doing a one rate check, we can do three rates or four rates and we'll randomize and we'll replicate it so it's almost like a research plot in your own field where you just get to farm it and get research quality data back on. So if I'm at 30,000, maybe I'm going to try 28, 30, 32 and 34,000 seeds in this particular area, our system randomizes those different areas, takes up four or five acres of the field and then you just combine it, we evaluate the results and come back with a response curve. So it's just helping growers learn faster, because a lot of times today, we don't get a decade to learn about a variety or a hybrid. We get a few years. So it's kind of exciting just to be able to apply some of that to the data that you're doing out there as a grower just as you normally farm.
Morgan Seger: (12:50)
Yeah. And I was just thinking about that, like, man, these hybrids turn so fast. I was at a field day the other day and I was getting heavily influenced to switch our biggest field all to this new number and I'm like, "I don't know if I can do it." So the speed of that data in the analysis is so important.
Aaron Seifert: (13:08)
It is. It absolutely is, and being able to learn quickly and make adjustments. If you get that extra year or two based on the knowledge that you've gained from it, that's a big deal. Understanding where I need to plan it, what the rates are, the fertility that might be required, and again, being able to evaluate that stuff, you're already collecting the data. So let's use it, let's bring it in and see what we can do to help every dollar go a little further.
Morgan Seger: (13:37)
Okay. So I have a couple follow-up questions for you. The first with the learning blocks. Do you guys have a set size that you think you need to fairly represent those checks you're doing?
Aaron Seifert: (13:48)
It's going to depend on your equipment essentially. So if I've got a 60 foot planner and a 12 row corn head, we can do things, basically design it to fit your equipment. So the size of the learning block is a little bit different. Usually it's going to be a few acres, two to five acres kind of a thing. And what we tend to find is most guys are willing to learn more by giving us a couple acres to check rates on. You're not necessarily sacrificing a whole half of a field to try something, you can just use a few acres and get that knowledge.
Morgan Seger: (14:29)
Yep. Okay. Makes sense.
Aaron Seifert: (14:31)
It differs basically based on your equipment sizes.
Morgan Seger: (14:35)
Okay. And probably field size for how many fit in and all of that kind of stuff. One thing I thought was interesting, you said not all bushels are created equal, and I actually have a note up here to ask you, not all data is created equal either. So what types expectations do you have for your growers to make sure you're actually analyzing good data?
Aaron Seifert: (14:58)
Yeah. That's a really great point. Being able to make decisions on data makes you have to have good data. Because if you don't then your decisions aren't good either. So multiple things. First thing is, our advisors and the retailers that we work with, their advisors work with growers as well on validating the data, making sure that the growers are entering the correct hybrid. So after planting season, we'll go back out with a planting report to the growers and make sure that this was actually the hybrid that got placed there, or you know what, forgot to change the monitor on that field because we all know that happens. So just double checking and making sure that just from an input standpoint we're getting the right things.
Aaron Seifert: (15:43)
And then we also validate data as it comes in. So there's multiple different ways as it gets into our system that we can evaluate it and take a look at it and say, "Well, this doesn't make sense." If there's a seeding rate of 28,000 and it says soybeans, that's probably not correct. So there's just ways that we start to validate data as it comes in our system as well. And then from a grower component, growers want good data too if they're making decisions. So once they see what they're getting out of the system, they tend to make a pretty conscious effort to calibrate that yield monitor and make sure that they're doing the right things to collect quality data.
Morgan Seger: (16:23)
I think that's an important thing in the data input. We all have good plans in the spring, but it's busy and you're not always the one in the cab either. So you have to rely on your whole team to get it right.
Aaron Seifert: (16:37)
Morgan Seger: (16:38)
So that makes a lot of sense.
Aaron Seifert: (16:39)
Yeah, for sure. I think that's one thing to our advisors and both from our retail advisors and as well as some of our own direct advisors, one of the things that growers get a lot of the value in is just that data management piece. Just making sure that, "Hey, my monitor's clean. All the wrecks I need are loaded and ready to go when I'm ready to hit the field." There's so many things outside of just the analysis that growers find value in, in what we do in working with them. There's a lot to do with that data piece and these growers, they're managing multi-million dollar businesses, so having to sit down and crunch data and make sure that things are ready, sometimes that's something that we can handle and take off their plate and they find a lot of value in that as well.
Morgan Seger: (17:25)
Yeah. It makes sense. Especially something that's so data heavy to outsource that to make sure that you're getting as much as you can out of the information you're providing.
Aaron Seifert: (17:34)
Yeah, for sure.
Morgan Seger: (17:36)
I know you talk about the value of data and growers know that their data is valuable. What types of things are you guys doing to make sure that all of that information that they're sharing with you is secure?
Aaron Seifert: (17:49)
This has been, and I think I might've mentioned that we've been around for 20 years. I think Premier Crop was started in 1999. So this is our 22nd, I believe, crop year. And I don't know, it was probably what five, eight years ago, when all this data stuff really started getting big and there's all kinds of uproar around how is your data protected, where's it going? And I remember Dan Frieberg one of the founders basically said he found that funny because in Premier Crop world, it's never been any other way. We've never sold a piece of data. Once your data comes into our system it doesn't leave unless you ask for it back. That whole piece of it was just standard business for us.
Aaron Seifert: (18:33)
All of the data that's in our system belongs to the grower. So that's how we treat that data. And again, like I said, it doesn't leave unless the grower asks for it back. It's just the way we do business. Obviously I could get you all technical terms, done, security and that type of thing, but we own our own software and everything is handled by us in house there. So obviously employed by the high security web servers and all that kind of stuff as well. But, but yeah, the data is the growers and it doesn't leave. It's a pretty simple, straightforward answer for us.
Morgan Seger: (19:09)
Yep. That makes it easy. I remember one thing as working in ag tech with software and hardware, not all files are also created equally. Do you guys have a preference to the type of information you can feed in or out, or can you pretty much work with any color?
Aaron Seifert: (19:28)
Yep. Yep. Any color. Today's software in the days and age that we live in is nice that way. It can be a mess with all the different types of data and files and monitors and systems that are out there, but the good part of it is, is we know how to manage it all and handle it all. So whether it's operations center or climate or any other cloud based system, those are always awesome. Just an easier way to get the data. We like raw data the best just because we know that it hasn't been altered and then we can do our thing with it. So however you can get it to us, we'll take it and we'll bring it in.
Morgan Seger: (20:05)
Awesome. Well, if we have someone listening who would like to learn more about your services or maybe interested in checking it out, where would you suggest they go or get in contact with someone from Premier Crop?
Aaron Seifert: (20:15)
Yeah, absolutely. Head to the website from premiercrop.com. Tons of information. There's a few free guides you can download and get started. You can contact us through the website and we can be more than happy to set up a meeting or a Zoom call like this. So we'll get connected in one way or another.
Morgan Seger: (20:34)
In the post COVID world these remote calls have been really nice.
Aaron Seifert: (20:40)
Yeah. It's like you have no excuses anymore. Everybody knows how to [inaudible 00:20:42].
Morgan Seger: (20:43)
That's right. That's right. Well, Hey, I know we are maybe interrupting your harvest so I will let you get back to it. I'm so grateful for you taking the time. It's always a pleasure catching up.
Aaron Seifert: (20:53)
Yeah, absolutely Morgan. Really appreciate it, and look forward to future conversations.
Morgan Seger: (20:57)
Sounds good. Thanks Aaron.
Morgan Seger: (20:59)
Well, I hope you got something out of that interview with Aaron Seifert. To me using our data is kind of like planting a tree. Don't they say the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is today? Well, the same goes for your data. If you've been collecting it, but you haven't been using it, the best time to start doing that was probably a couple of years ago, but the second best time to do it is today. So let's use this harvest season to capture data that we can use to influence our decisions going into 2021. Thanks for tuning into another episode of Precision Points. To see the show notes from this episode and to hear more content like this, make sure you go to precisionagreviews.com. While you're there, you can leave a review of any of the technology you have used and check out our other farmer source reviews. Let's grow together.
Host: Morgan Seger
Morgan Seger grew up on a small farm in Northwest Ohio then studied agriculture at The Ohio State University. She spent ten years working with ag retail, specifically in ag tech, before coming to PrecisionAgReviews.com to host Precision Points Podcast. She lives and farms in western Ohio, with her husband Ben and their four children. Morgan, has her own blog called Heart and Soil where she talks about her experience farming, gardening, and raising her family.
Guest: Aaron Seifert
Aaron works for Premier Crop Systems as a Business Development Manager responsible for the western business unit. Premier Crop empowers growers and their advisors to create real value from data to make profitable and sustainable agronomic and economic decisions. He previously worked for Winfield United helping ag retailers navigate the precision ag space concentrating on the development and execution of a digital engagement strategy including e-business. His career in ag began with Ziegler, Inc. engaging with growers and retailers around their precision ag hardware needs. Aaron attended Waldorf College in Forest City, IA and earned a Bachelor’s degree in business management and finance. He grew up in southwestern Minnesota where his family still produces corn, soybeans, and livestock. Today, Aaron enjoys farming with his father-in-law, coaching or attending kids’ events, and time with friends and family. Aaron and his wife, Jamie, live in Ankeny, IA with their four daughters Avery, Harper, Finley, and Hattie.