Decision tools that are useful and usable

Farmers are data hungry. I know because I moonlight as one.  I get eight texts a day just to know what the grain markets are doing.  What is my cost per acre?  How fast did that group of pigs grow?  These are the types of questions I and other farmers are asking themselves all the time.  This fall I finally installed a GPS-enabled yield monitor in my combine.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  Sure, much of what I was seeing I knew already. Some areas are good, some bad, and some are much better or worse than I ever expected.  That real-time data gave me something to think about and will lead to management changes in the future.

This want for data is why I’m excited about the decision tools that the Useful to Usable (U2U) project is developing and has made available at  The U2U project is a companion to the Sustainable Corn project and is focused on bringing new production and climate related decision tools to farmers.  These tools are based on reams of data that are being collected on a daily basis.  Much of the data can be accessed already, if you know where to look, on sites such as the Iowa Environmental Mesonet.  I have spent hours on this site reviewing current and historical weather data. It sure is something to check out.

However, with just a couple of mouse clicks using the Growing Degree tool or the AgClimate View on the U2U site you can have a whole data set filled with local information on historical climate and crop yield or real-time growing degree day information compared to historical accumulations.

For instance within the Growing Degree Day tool I can enter the corn relative maturity, set the planting data and get a quick estimate of when the corn will silk, when it will mature and when to expect that first frost. I can also compare it to a similar year in the past, going back to 1981.  I really wish I would have had this tool when deciding which corn variety to plant during the delayed planting season we had in northeast Iowa in 2013.  I would have made some different decisions. Here is an example graph for one planting date and corn maturity scenario: Growing Degree Day Graph.

The AgClimate View is also a great tool because it incorporates an almost unbelievable amount of weather and yield data into just a few simple graphs at a very local level, using the closest weather station and county corn and soybean yields.  The graphs are very clean looking and can be saved for later reference.

I encourage you to take a look at these two tools and others available on the U2U website.  And take time to provide them with some feedback. Are the tools useful?  How are you using the tools? What data would you like to see in the future?  While you are at it, let us know what you think about the Sustainable Corn project and website in the comment section below.  We are always looking for better ways to bring climate and production information to farmers across the corn belt.

    This entry was posted in Decision Tools for Farmers, Farmers and Climate Change by Chad Ingels. Bookmark the permalink.

    About Chad Ingels

    Chad Ingels is currently leading the Extension and Outreach component of the Sustainable Corn project. He is an Extension watershed specialist located in northeast Iowa providing education, facilitation and administration for farmer-led watershed councils that develop and implement performance-based incentive programs in their impaired watersheds. He has been working with water quality and watershed improvement projects in Iowa since 2000. Chad also farms part-time, raising corn, soybean and Berkshire pigs.

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