Growing profitability with data in the field.

Since human beings began growing crops in a field to establish communities, the mantra has always been “grow more”. Growing more means more food, more stability, and (of course) more money. That money means better equipment, more land, and a means to retire and let the next generation take over. However, one company is showing farmers how to increase profit margins through the use of data.

JC from Crop Tech Solutions in their test field showing how planting depth can aid or hinder the ability of the plant to absorb nutrients. When you lean up your inputs getting every last drop to count is crucial. *Photo taken the morning after heavy rain and 60mph winds

However, with the advent of technology the time honored tradition of growing more took an odd turn. Corn is an industry that measures success in bushels per acre. In chasing more bushels per acre more inputs are needed to push crops to new levels. Farmers may even go bankrupt trying to get a 20% increase in bushels just to better their neighbor or hit a projection.

The advent of technology has changed the paradigm in how crops are cultivated and how they can be grown. Keep in mind, people were still using livestock to plow fields as late as the 1950’s. Now they use ultra precise GPS to navigate a family farm they know like the back of their hands, all for more bushels per acre at harvest time.

John Deere – 1775NT 24 Row 30 Drawn Planter is an example of the level of sophisticated tech in agriculture farmers are pairing with data. This piece of equipment is a far cry from what they used on this ground 50-100 years ago.

With the quest for more bushels comes the additional costs and “inputs”. Inputs can be anything you put into a field to help it grow: water, fertilizer, herbicide, pesticide, and more are all inputs. With deep enough pockets you can fund any number of thousands of variables that go into a particular field. But are those inputs really helping you make more money?

Working Smarter not Harder

One company, Crop Tech Solutions, realized you can work smarter and not harder. As it turns out being too productive and chasing higher bushel counts can actually be detrimental to your bottom line. Its such a foreign idea let me write that again another way. You can make more money, from less bushels per acre.

JC Smith with Crop Tech Solutions showing the CAN team the difference planting depth can have on plant growth in a test field. *Photo taken the morning after heavy rain and 60mph winds

Seed companies want to sell more seeds, so more seeds means more profit…but for whom? The soil and field conditions will dictate how the corn grows in the field, not the seed count going in. The more you have to add to that field in terms of inputs the more money it will cost to grow it. Each input erodes your profit margin and if its a down year for corn pricing, you’re in the red pretty fast.

“Traditional” field across the road. Plants of different heights, brown spots, bald spots, smaller plants, tighter grouping, higher input levels. *Photo taken the morning after heavy rain and 60mph winds
An optimized field under Crop Tech Solutions watch. Solid green with no brown spots, low spots, or inconsistent growth. *Photo taken the morning after heavy rain and 60mph winds

So, somewhat counter intuitively, you can make more money farming with less bushels per acre. By using the data and the technology for precision planting you maximize the potential of the plants without competing for resources. Farming smarter, not harder, the plants can reach a greater potential without competing for resources.

Growing with CAN

Contemporary Analysis has been working with Crop Tech Solutions to get even more from their data. The more effective their data collection and prediction, the easier it is for their customers to see significant gains in profitability. Crop Tech Solutions has been able to help local farmers find Millions in efficiencies, and shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

Crop Tech delivers customized prescriptions for each field. Based on the data points from various aspects of farming. As they layer additional data to the process, the more they are able to predict the best combination of field characteristics and inputs. Their prescription helps crops grow to their fullest potential without wasting input dollars trying to push it along.

Example of the data visualization offered from Crop Tech Solutions. The heat map shows how the field was planted and prescribed growth for inputs. When input into precision planting equipment every individual plant has its optimal conditions for growth.

So how do you get more profit from LESS bushels per acre? It all comes down to how much you have to spend to grow the corn. To get 250 bushels per acre you have to purchase chemicals, fertilizer, fuel, and more. These inputs are often in significant quantities to “push” the field to that bushel target. Plants have to compete for resources so they are strained and don’t grow to full potential. Resources like water, sunlight, and root size can dramatically change the way your crops grow.

Working in inches over hundreds of acres can equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings each year. *Photo taken the morning after heavy rain and 60mph winds

When you use the data to understand what the ground can carry, down to the inch in the field, you can optimize every row to get monster corn that isn’t struggling for limited resources. When the corn can grow to its full potential, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars trying to push it along. The data takes the “gut feeling” out of farming.

Precision agriculture delivers results, but only if you know how to deploy it. You can have the best equipment in the world, but if you don’t set it up right you’re wasting money. The prescription delivered from the layered data points helps program seed planting equipment (for example) accurately. A section of your field may call for a 6 inch gap between plants while another segment, 20 feet away, may call for 1 1/2 inches between plants. The compulsion to “split the difference” and then “set it and forget it” could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run. You’re literally betting the farm on how many inches apart you place crops in the field.

JC showing the guys from CAN how the planting types can change from row to row with precision agriculture. This test field shows how plants that are grouped closely together compete for resources. Others that are spaced too far apart aren’t using all the input resources and wasting money in the process. *Photo taken the morning after heavy rain and 60mph winds
Even the depth of the seed being planted can effect the yield per plant. The goal is to understand the variables and how to optimize them for each square food of growing space. *Photo taken the morning after heavy rain and 60mph winds

Very few farmers work on an all cash basis. Each year they take a loan from the bank to fund the operation. These loans can be in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. The less you can spend on inputs the less you need to borrow. The less you need to borrow, the less you have in interest payments. When you go to sell your crops the fluctuating prices mean the farmer who grew quality crops with lean inputs will see more profit. The farmer who grew to the seed company suggestions has a skinnier margin (if any) and could actually lose money growing corn in a bad year.

The red row is planted to the seed provider spec. The blue row is planted to the field and how it can grow corn most efficient. *Photo taken the morning after heavy rain and 60mph winds

The Payoff

At Contemporary Analysis we love working in what we call the “Steel toe industries”. These areas include, Agriculture, Construction, Manufacturing, Transportation, and Logistics. We carry over lessons learned from our non-steel toe clients and vice versa. The end result is a broad spectrum of options where others may only see one or two.

Our goal is to help companies make better data driven decisions at every turn. In this instance, its helping farmers remain profitable year over year. Because of the champions of data like Crop Tech Solutions we can help keep families and even entire communities thriving through data.

Overall we had a great visit with the guys from Crop Tech Solutions. They even gave us a private tour of the Sod House Museum which is one of their passion projects.

If you’d like to see how we could help you do more with less, contact us.

Steps in going from BI to Predictive to AI

Data Hierarchy

Machine Learning, Business Intelligence, and Artificial Intelligence are buzz words that are being thrown around at planning sessions a lot these last few years. They have real meanings that most people don’t understand. They are using them to mean “more sophisticated at using data to make decisions”. And while that is right, there is a right way and a very wrong way to lead your company down the path of using data to make data-driven decisions. After 10+ years of helping companies understand what that path is, we wanted to help you the reader understand the order and the real definitions of the buzz words. This way, you can not be educated, but you can give your company the direction it needs to go up the Data Hierarchy.

Data Science is in an integral part of everyday life at this point and you just don’t know it.  As a society, we’re generating more data than ever before. Smart businesses are tapping into that data to do things that were previously unheard of.

Take Facebook for example.  20 years ago Facebook didn’t exist, now people are addicted to it and seemingly can’t live without it.  But even then, people are still weary of the dreaded “Facebook algorithm” that cuts 50% of the posts you might want to see.  That algorithm is data science at work

That’s right, you’ve generated enough data that Facebook wrote some code to cut 50% of your friends out of your life.  You didn’t interact with them enough, they didn’t post enough, there are hundreds of reasons why that system feels like your college roommates buddy from down the hall with the cat doesn’t need to be at the top of your feed.  It also looks at what you read on a regular basis and then tries to predict what you would want to read next.

So to help people truly understand what we do as a company, and to help you hire us.  (let’s be honest) We put together a series on the sophistication of data usage as businesses mature that we call the Business Data Hierarchy.  The goal of this series is to help people and companies understand where they are now, and where they could go with data driven decision making.

We’ve written the series to be informative and insightful, with a splash of humor mixed in to keep you awake through the whole process.  If you like it or if you feel like someone needs to read this…we ask that you share the info or…better yet…get them in touch with us and we’ll bring the show to you!  The pyrotechnic guys tell us we’ll need a 25’ ceiling for the fire and lasers…Hey, it’s a good show.

…this will also be the longest post of the entire series, don’t worry!

When you look at Data, and what it can do for you and your company, there are six different levels of Data Hierarchy.  It’s a hierarchy because each level is codependent on another.

These levels are important to understand because jumping from one to another, without a long term goal, can be cost prohibitive.  This is even more devastating when you finally get your executive level to believe in the power of data, and it breaks the bank in the execution.

“Skipping” leads to “Skippers”

There are consultants with lovely summer and winter homes who have paid for them “skipping” to the end and then back billing/building the solutions.

To insulate against catastrophic failure of a data-driven initiative we at Contemporary Analysis (CAN) have created a Data Hierarchy to help companies understand where they are and more importantly, where they are going. This understanding helps drive the strategy and vision needed to be successful.  These levels are

  1. Reporting:  Tracking and “What happened?”
  2. Business Intelligence:  “What just happened?”
  3. Descriptive Data:  “Why did that happen?”
  4. Predictive Data:  “What is going to happen next?”
  5. Prescriptive Data:  “What should we do to make it happen?”
  6. Artificial Intelligence:  “Automated recommendations”
  7. Omnipotent AI (Skynet): “Automated Doing of its own recommendations” a.k.a. “Terminator Movies”

Every business is trying to move “forward”.  If you work for a company whose response is anything but “forward” or “more” start polishing up your resume, you’ll need it sooner than later.

Most companies are so focused on today’s business they don’t know what the path to the future looks like.  

Imagine you tell a CEO you’re going to walk a mile to get another 1 million in sales.  Most CEO’s would look at the distance and agree that a short distance is worth the time and effort to get the additional revenue.  

The sprint to 1 million

You and your team(s) work feverishly to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.  You cross the finish line and there’s your 1 million. The CEO checks the box and there it is, project complete.

Now imagine if you told a CEO you’re going to get 20 million in sales.  After the confused look and possible laughing subsides you tell them how.  Instead of a mile, you have to walk 15 miles. But you’re not going to do them all in 1 year.  Instead you’re going to walk that distance over 5-6 years. You’ll measure success with each mile you pass and each mile will result in ROI for the company.

Mountain road in Norway.

You also let them know that you can cover the ground when and how you want to.  If one mile is too tough to work in the time and effort this year, you postpone it to the next.  If, as you’re walking, a business need changes and you need to walk a completely different direction you can.  The steps remain the same but the road you use to get there is slightly different.

Understanding the long term goal allows you and your team(s) the ability to work smarter not harder.  You’re building toward the vision at every turn so you have little to no wasted effort. And, because you’re building over time, you can staff accordingly for each mile and access the right talent at the right time

Part of CAN’s role is being that “Data Visionary” that helps you see over the horizon with possibilities.  The hardest part of this whole process is getting the decision makers in an organization to embrace the culture of change.

“We’ve done it this way for __X__ years and it works just fine.”  Is becoming the leading indicator of a dying business. If you’re 40 years old the technology available today wasn’t even conceptualized when you were in grade school.  “We’ve done it this way for 50 years…” means you’re already behind the curve.

The posts that will follow will walk you through each level of the Business Data Hierarchy concept.  We’ll be sure to include examples that are relatable. The subject matter can be a bit dry, so we’ll also make sure we include some humor along the way to keep things lively.  We’re a Data Science Consulting firm..not monsters after all.

At any point, feel free to reach out and let us know how we can help you through these steps:


Business Intelligence

Descriptive Analytics

Predictive Analtyics

Prescriptive Analtyics

Machine Learning

Artificial Intelligence

how land is used in the US

Good Data Visualization Example: Here’s how America uses its land

Here at Contemporary Analysis, we believe good data visualization is the key to understanding data and making data-driven decisions from it. We have worked with multiple companies (including nonprofits) over the years to provide valuable visualizations of their data, both at the macro and micro levels, to help them use their data more strategically. While technologically agnostic, we do recommend Tableau for those users who are either new or non-technical. We offer classes on how to use data visualization through our school, the Omaha Data Science Academy.

The Predictive Analytics Revolution – Are you sitting on the sidelines?

Predictive analytics (or Big Data) is here to stay. You may not understand it. You may not believe that it really works. But the reality is this: your competitors (and it may be just one or two of them) are using predictive analytics to chew up market space as you remain on the sidelines.
Don’t believe me? (more…)

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