The role of precision farming dealers will be to service and support technology.

As growers increasingly make use of precision farming data collected on their farms to increase yields and decrease input costs, the next frontier is helping them tap into their neighbors’ data to compare and contrast results and further improve efficiency.

The concept of “community data sharing” is new and the quantifiable results — on a large scale — are a work in progress, but several precision data management companies are testing the waters with pilot projects aimed at broader adoption of the practice.

“It’s one of the best analytical tools available now to help farmers decide which bundle of products can be used to help mitigate risk,” says Terry Griffin, vice president of applied economics with CrescoAg LLC, a precision farming data management company based in Memphis, Tenn.

Last spring, CrescoAg launched a survey program in conjunction with Mississippi-based Jimmy Sanders Inc., to collect, analyze and aggregate precision data from about 150 farms in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.

The volunteer program is designed to be a comprehensive database of 2012 yield monitor data that would include planting dates, tillage types, row spacing, plant populations, hybrid variation identification, fertilizer rates, seed treatments and anything else done to crops in the field.

"We want to show farmers the value of community analysis and how to be more profitable by sharing data,” says Chism Craig, vice president of research and development with CrescoAg. “But we also want to show farmers that you can trust a third party with your data, which is why we want their feedback during this process.”

More recently, Washington D.C.-based AgGateway Corp. announced its own plan — the Standardized Precision Ag Data Exchange (SPADE) project — to improve efficiency with precision farming equipment, across multiple farms.

AgGateway’s program has drawn the support of major precision technology manufacturers and precision farming dealers will inevitably have a role to play in promoting community data sharing.

A critical element in allowing data management companies to successfully and accurately aggregate grower data, Griffin says, will be precision farmer dealers’ ability to keep equipment — especially yield monitors — maintained and up-to-date.

“How do we encourage farmers to calibrate their yield monitors when they are in a hurry to harvest crops?” Griffin says. “I think there is an opportunity for equipment dealers to provide that service. If groups like ours can show farmers value in community data, they would be incentivized to collect better data and keep their equipment maintained.”

One of the potential challenges in pooling precision data is making sure the data is reliable and spotty participation could hurt the believability of the data and decrease the value for farmers.

That makes support and service from precision farming dealers a crucial component of effective community data sharing, Griffin says.

“As a farmer, if there is not local support for a certain type of precision farming technology, I wouldn’t be incentivized to adopt it,” he says. “When farmers begin to see that there is a lot of value to maintaining things like yield monitors, I think they will make more of an effort to do so. Right now, I’m not seeing that being a common practice.”