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Want Yield
February 20, 2016

Crop Whispering, Measuring Behavior

Everyone is quite familiar with and has a FICO score that is essentially a measure of past financial behavior and used as a predictor of future financial behavior in order to price risk into the credit equation.

Similarly, though not as ubiquitous or well known; driving scores begin to reflect how, when and where you drive in order to help insurance Companies more fairly and accurately price the risk they take by insuring you as a driver. Many large fleets are self insured so these measures of past behavior behind the wheel have an added advantage of modifying those tendencies which can ultimately prove to be costly or even fatal.

If you measure something, by its’ very nature the implication is that this something now measured is in fact important and so if it matters, we humans tend to pay attention to it and often our competitive nature engages to make what was once poor become good, then good becomes great and then great may evolve into World Class.

Once several decades ago, a young assembly line supervisor decided he wanted to improve the productivity on his assembly line and noticed that the lighting was rather dim and made the place feel old, dark and neglected. So he arranged to have new and incremental lighting installed and to his delight, productivity did indeed improve. Workers could see more easily and their attitudes brightened and the pace picked up.

Encouraged by this positive reinforcement, he had his industrial engineers tracking the workers’ movements, and processes and ultimate production output. He thought if the first “enlightenment” produced better results, maybe more was better, so he put in yet more new lighting.

Can you believe the output went up yet again?

Now feeling quite confident and proud of his clever initiatives, he decided to press the issue and do it once again, expecting at some point to hit the law of diminishing returns.

Can you guess what happened? It went up again.

Now, however some doubt began to creep into his mind about his cleverness because the factory floor was now obnoxiously bright. The atmosphere was somewhat warm and uncomfortable with all of those bright lights burning away.

So he turned off some of the lights and….you guessed it; production went up once again.

Many of you know this story as The Hawthorne Effect and of course it was never the lighting that increased the production but rather that people were watching and measuring and the workers realized that what they did actually mattered and that someone cared.

So we eventually outsourced all of their jobs overseas and laid them off to begin the decline of our middle class economy but that is a rant for a different day.

We are now starting to bring this measuring methodology into the agricultural space which I view as a factory without a roof that cannot just be outsourced overseas. Agriculture is of course growing things so measures get clouded by nature.

If you were to obtain an exceptionally good yield, you might attribute that to the seed, or the chemicals, or the sunshine producing advantageous growing degree days. There are myriad factors which contribute to a poor, a good or an outstanding yield. As of yet, we cannot control the heat or humidity or wind and despite whatever seed you elect to plant with its’ inherent DNA characteristics, the nature part of the yield equation is still uncontrollable.

However, the nurture part of the yield result is absolutely measurable and controllable. What you elect to do with that seed and soil and sunshine makes a very large contribution to the ultimate yield and whether it turns out average or great or fails altogether.

These behaviors that contribute to achieving the best yield nature will allow include primarily ensuring that the liquid nutrients the crop withdraws from the soil bank are present at the time and at the depth where the active root zone seeks to obtain them in each and every day throughout the growing phase.

Other behaviors such as not allowing salts to build up impeding the roots’ ability to withdraw the nutrients and having sufficient nitrates available in the active root zone also conspire to produce yields which are consistently 20% better than those not nurtured efficiently. Of course weed control and pest control and disease monitoring are all contributing nurturing factors as well.

Unlike, the FICO score which largely inures to the benefit of the bank or the driving score which is a great assist to the insurance industry, the YES! (Yield Efficiency Score) is a tool for and to the benefit of the Farmer solely himself.

The Farmer helps himself immensely by achieving the highest yield nature will allow. The Farmer himself bears the brunt of poor or deficient nurturing that manifests in lower yield when it didn’t have to be that way. By automatically measuring the things are imperative to producing the highest yield possible, the Farmer keeps himself in touch engaged and in check with diligently nurturing his crops.

Now I’m not implying that each plant in his many rows of crops will know that he cares and is measuring progress like the now outsourced workers on that ancient production line, but they will respond affirmatively and in that way, he can see every day how the root system responded to the treatment as that is the way the crops actually whisper to him daily.

This is the only way the crop has to speak to him at this point but feedback is feedback and it greatly pays off at the end.

Maybe someday technology will find a better way for crops to speak to us more directly, but right now we are working on self driving cars and saving the planet. Personally I’d like to get my dog to talk but that’s just me.

Crop whispering works and although the crop doesn’t know it is being watched and measured, it will respond to you the only way it can; higher and healthier growth which is plant speak for yield.