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  • Writer's pictureTim Hammerich

Now Hiring on the Farm: Data Managers

The boom in agtech in recent years has provided an array of new tools for farmers. Many of these tools include new ways to collect data.

But is more data always the answer?

“Farmers have data raining on them (excuse the pun)” says Nebraska Farmer Eric Thalken.

“We have soil moisture. We have weather stations. We have pivot telemetry. We have accounting. We have all the precision data that comes with planting, tillage operations, and stuff like that. It’s almost impossible to keep track of all of it. So that’s the biggest pain point for me right now is sorting through all the data and drawing good conclusions from it. Because there is so much. You can’t keep track of all the satellite images that come over my laptop.”

Eric and his leadership team farm 2,300 acres of organic crops in southeast Nebraska. They have made the decision to hire a Data Manager for their farm. The primary task of this employee is to collect and analyze the key actionable data points to make management decisions on their farm.

“Me or other people were spending 20 hours per week just punching in information” says Eric. “We recently hired a Data Manager who keeps track of a lot of this stuff. He’s really been helpful because he is focusing on how to pull value out of (the data), and what we need to keep track of.”

I recently interviewed Eric as well as Justin Dahlgren, another farmer in Nebraska, on the “Future of Agriculture” Podcast.

Justin Dahlgren helps manage his family’s farming operation in a different area of Nebraska. In addition to their row crops, they operate an 8,000 head feedlot.

Justin agrees that he could see a Data Manager fitting into his own operation to both manage data and provide agronomic insights.

“Farmers have been collecting data for years, and we’ve been collecting more and more, but I don’t think we’ve been utilizing it very well” Dahlgren told me. “I know a lot of farmers in my area who get yield maps printed off every year. It is a great thing to look at, but you know everything that is there and you don’t use them to make decisions. That’s one of the big things we’re working on right now is using the data that we pull out of our tractors to drive profitability, functionality, and longevity in our system. To be more sustainable or even regenerative.”

Both Eric and Justin utilize tools like Granular to help them turn all of this data into actionable insights to improve their operations. They are seeing so much value in data analysis that they are looking to add a new position for someone to help manage data.

Both admit that a Data Manager will have to take on additional responsibilities as well. In Justin’s case, he might look at a full time employee to be part Data Manager and part Agronomist.

For Eric, his Data Manager is someone with a farm background who can do things like plant, harvest, and drive a semi when needed. The primary role however, is to manage the data on the farm related to accounting, genetics, contracts, prescription maps, precision seeding, variable rate nutrients, and beyond. The end result is important and relevant insights from the data to inform smart management decisions.

Having a handle on all of this data is useful in management, but it also can be very valuable when it comes to marketing. Eric explains:

“I think that’s one of the very biggest things is transparency with our operations. We are using that information to help us with marketing. Like right now we work with Kashi (Kellogg’s cereal). They love the regenerative agriculture aspect to (our farm practices). We are able to show it to them, almost in real time, what’s going on on the farm….Being able to keep track of your identity-preserved crops and present that to a market is going to be huge. It is already (huge), and I think it will bigger.”

In this way, a Data Manager can help a farming operation widen profitability from both ends by increasing the top line through marketing, and the bottom line through more efficient management.

Eric and Justin are both bullish on regenerative farming practices. In these systems, farmers rely more heavily on crop rotations, cover crops, and livestock while ideally using fewer inputs and tractor passes. There is even some optimism of farmers being compensated for the added carbon sequestration that regenerative agriculture can provide.

To learn more about this concept, check out this piece we did about Nori.

The farmer of the future, regenerative or not, will need to be skilled at extracting actionable insights from all of this data. Will more farming operations consider hiring Data Managers?

Or might the term “Farm Manager” become synonymous with “Farm DATA Manager”?

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