Having access to your data from the machine as it comes out of the field is more than handy; it’s also more likely that you’ll put that information to use. Waiting until winter to move yield maps from combine to the office computer takes time. Having that information available right away as the combine leaves the field offers advantages.

An example commonly used is the ability to harvest a field and have combine yield data transmitted immediately to the cloud, where a farmer can pass it on to an agronomist for a fall-fertilizer prescription — without pulling a data card or thumb drive from the monitor and taking it to the office. The agronomist can efficiently send that prescription back to the cloud, where the applicator can pull it down and roll in for fall fertilizer very soon after the combine leaves. In this farming game of inches, time-critical tasks like fall and spring work would be enhanced with these kinds of data services.

The key is understanding the features and benefits offered. “These services will be a reality for a lot of people,” says HTS Ag’s Adam Gittins, who has a long history in the information technologies business. “The benefits [of the services offered] are worth the trade-offs. It’s an individual decision. The key is being informed and realize what’s going on.”

He notes that policies change over time. “In the information technologies space, we’ve seen where free is no longer free. Guess what? They still have your data; you have to be aware of what’s going on. Rules change for the future, and you may have to pay to get to your data.”

He’s talking beyond basic subscription fees for the service. The key to remember is that you essentially have all your data. It’s in the combine or tractor, and that should be stored somewhere for safe-keeping, too.

The recent breach at Target and Neiman Marcus opened a lot of people’s eyes to data privacy worries. Farmers who have long collected information on yield and prescription product use worry about what they have and its value to others. But Steve Sonka, emeritus professor of agricultural strategy, University of Illinois, has a different take on that idea: “We worry about breaches, and I might lose sleep over credit card numbers. You have to figure out where you might be damaged. But if somebody has my yield map, what are they going to do with it and how are they going to harm me? If they’re sophisticated enough to steal a yield map, they’ll do something else that will make them more money.”

Putting farm information to better use has merit. Sonka thinks that the simple tasks like faster prescription maps would be the first step, but he sees it going beyond that: “Immediacy will drive other things, but I would suggest those will turn out to have less value. The ability to look across many operations, and gain insights and translate that information for use in our own operations will have the greater long-run value.”