Meet Michael Vos, Self-Proclaimed Ag Leader “Geek”

Melissa Sandfort

Insights Weekly

Michael Vos isn’t just your typical 2,000-acre farmer from southeast Iowa. Okay, maybe he is. But he’s also an accomplished farm geek at a time when being one is pretty chic – and profitable. See, Vos has turned his operation into a working science experiment, testing different practices, challenging traditions and twisting data – with the goal of wringing out more profits every season and every year.

There’s probably not a better person for this role. Why? Not only is Michael a true evangelist for collecting and using precision farming data, but Vos also serves as Software Sales Manager at Ag Leader, which allows him to see firsthand the challenges that growers face in sifting through the maze of technology and data available to those using precision farming.

Let’s talk with Michael about the Value of Data.

Q: You talk a lot about the Value of Data? Explain.

A: The information that is recorded from precision ag displays has a tremendous value for showing the ‘truth’ about much of the common questions on the farm. Data is very valuable in this sense. It can help you understand what’s going on across your field, so you can make decisions about everything you do in the field – the timing of tillage, the best seed types, what and when you should be applying products and more. One of the biggest challenges is understanding if the practice you adopted was effective and profitable. Without data, it can be hard to answer those questions. With data, you can usually tell if there was a benefit and what the payback was.

Q: Other countries (in Europe, for example) are tightening restrictions on what, how much and when products can be applied to a field. What’s your sense of how that might change in North America?

A: Regulations will likely restrict and drive more decisions here, but I like to think about us making decisions based on what drives yields, rather than being forced to adopt something. For example, in some countries in Europe, there are strict limits on how much nitrogen can be applied to a field. With technologies like crop sensors I apply my normal amount of nitrogen (sometimes less), but apply it at different rates across the field, so the nitrogen use is more effective.

Q: Do you see record-keeping to appease rules and regulations becoming even more work for growers in the future?

A: No. Maintaining the data is easy. As technology continues to improve more functions will be streamlined, so in that sense, some tasks will be easier. But record-keeping is really about organizing information and precision farming data is another layer of information that has answers for us. There is always going to be some amount of work we will need to put into this in order to find our answers to our questions. Soils and plants are complex, thus we have to do our homework in order to understand some of our common questions.

Q: Is there such a thing as too much information in farming?

A: Not really. It’s more of a problem of not being able to systematically work through a process to glean answers from the data. The problem isn’t the amount of data, it is the ability to work through it by asking the right questions that the data can help provide answers for.

Q: Any advice for the grower just starting to use data to make decisions about their operation?

A: Don’t be afraid of questions and not being able to answer them right away. Look at your own data, run on-farm tests, ask others, be a seeker of information to help answer your questions.

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Ag Leader, Insights Weekly