Path to Precision
Making sense of data: the value of Farm Management Information Systems
29 Nov 2021
In previous articles we've covered two major pillars of precision farming: sensors, measuring every move you make, every commodity you use and benchmarking your yield performance, and GNSS, which is added to those sensors to give you site-specific measurements which allow for deeper understanding of the variability across your farm.
At this point, physically speaking, all you have are bytes of data on your machine's precision-supported display. These bytes may look like just a colourful, pretty map on the display but, the real power of this data is yet to be realised. This is the point at which we introduce FMIS into the equation. And this is where the real magic begins.
FMIS, which stands for Farm Management Information Systems, used to be an exclusive realm reserved for the true innovators in the agriculture world. This software used to be clunky, incredibly complicated and expensive! However, in the last decade, this has drastically changed.
A boom in the agricultural software market has led to fierce competition to offer the best FMIS platform and in doing so, reduce the barriers in getting farmers, like you, to use them. In fact, these days when you make a decision about which agricultural machinery brand to go with, a big factor may be the software platform each brand offers—their FMIS.
An FMIS is to farmers what Microsoft Excel is to accountants and analysts: it’s the tool that turns data into powerful insights; something to action! The measurements and data you have gathered using sensors and GNSS doesn't go very far if you're not going to act upon it. It’s the FMIS that gives you the insights to make a difference, to make a change!
So, what is the FMIS actually doing?
Once you get your data into your FMIS, either wirelessly through telematics or manually via a data card, the software processes it into a language that you can understand. It essentially becomes your digital farm footprint, turning everything you do into location-based data on your desktop or mobile browser. For example:
• Field boundaries: mapped out boundaries become a the major 'filter' in your data. All actions, i.e. data points, gathered within that boundary are sorted to that digital field so you can draw your conclusions field by field
• Management zones: field boundaries still too big for you? To allow for further field variability consideration, your FMIS allows you to map out specific 'management zones' - by the hectare, acre or even meter. That's some serious control!
• Data layers: every sensor that is recording data has its own 'layer' in your FMIS. Picture a cake, made up of different layers. You can have a yield layer, a fuel layer, a seeding layer, a spraying layer, soil layer and topographic layer. And much like a cake too, when you stack them over each other things get tasty! Data layers allow you to draw comparisons and conclusions. Maybe a certain soil type requires less seed? See that through your FMIS! Or perhaps there is a lot of chemical run-off on some rough land? See that through your FMIS!
• Commodity/resource management: like a bank app keeps account of your 'balance', your FMIS can track the balance of your commodities and resources, and show you where and how you are using them! How much seed did you use? How much do you have left? You can even assign cost to each commodity which will allow you track total cost of a job! Labour, fuel, seed, fertiliser—all automatically calculated and available as a convenient report at the click of button!
Before we geek out too much talking about Farm Management Information Systems, let’s conclude.
The value of an FMIS is in the name itself: 'farm management'—and it’s truly that! With the right amount of attention, your FMIS can streamline many of your routine tasks.
Today nearly every major agricultural machinery manufacturer offers their own version of an FMIS; Case IH’s is called AFS Connect. These systems are easier, more accessible, and more automated than ever before... and in the case of AFS Connect, it’s even free to use.
But wait, there's more! As explained above, your FMIS allows you to draw actionable insights to make important changes in your farm operation. MORE than that though, an FMIS has the built-in tools to implement those changes.
Remember: if you can measure, you can improve, and if you can control, you change.
With sensors, GNSS and an FMIS, you now know what you need to change, so now you need the final pillar of precision farming: control technology. Check out our next article on that topic.