The movie "Moneyball" tells the true story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis. In an important scene early in the film, Beane (played by Brad Pitt) cor¬ners his future assistant, Yale economics graduate Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), in a parking ramp to ask him about using data to make baseball decisions. That happened to Evan Sieling, too. Except instead of a parking ramp, he met his future boss in a clothing store. And instead of translating data to victories, they agreed his future was in helping farmers use data to run more profitable operations.
It was that conversation that brought about Sieling's eventual role as regional YieldPoint™ specialist for CHS.
"It's a very fun story to tell," Sieling says of his chance encounter. "I have a sales background, but I went back to school for computer technology because of what I saw happening in the industries I had worked in. I really enjoyed computers and technology, and it was actually my wife who kind of suggested that I should look into agriculture. Not having a background in agriculture, I didn't know I could find something like this, so I did a lot of research. I sought out CHS because of the company it is and the infrastructure that it has. I saw there was a lot of opportunity and value in working with the largest cooperative in the United States. And I got really lucky and ran into my future sales manager one day in a clothing store. Next thing you know, I'm sitting here as a regional YieldPoint specialist for CHS!"
Sieling's story is intriguing, but not rare. Companies across the agricultural spectrum are accessing talent from a wide variety of backgrounds to meet the industry's accelerating need for diversified expertise. That's particularly true when it comes to precision agriculture.
Part of a growing team of six regional CHS YieldPoint specialists, Sieling is responsible for supporting local cooperatives in the realm of precision technology and managing effective change to impact operational ROI.
CHS YieldPoint precision agriculture services are used to help farmers pinpoint specific information, insights and data to take their fields to new levels of productivity and efficiency. The service, delivered exclusively through local experts at CHS Service Centers, is activated to advise customers on:
- Increased outputs and/or decreased inputs
- Improved nitrogen, phosphate and potash management
- Smarter secondary and micronutrient use
- More accurate planning, hybrid selection and yield predictions
- Enhanced record keeping and cost/bushel analysis
- Refined planting rates and seed selection
- Improved traceability
- Variable-rate applications
The YieldPoint service combines two forms of valued expertise (technology and agronomy) with the type of trust only a local advisor can earn. Sieling and his counterparts play a vital role in this dynamic mash-up by training the owners of that local expertise on the latest technology-driven agricultural trends.
"The other regional YieldPoint specialists and I are the internal infrastructure that supports the consultative service," Sieling explains. "The local agronomists and the local YieldPoint specialists bring the real-life application to the grower. My role is to make sure that, along with all the other forms of expertise they bring to the grower relationship, they are also technology and precision ag experts locally."
Of course, most growers have been tinkering with precision tactics and data collection for some time. But the anecdotal stories told about "data drawers," full of collected, but unused data, still accurately describe the state of some farm office desks. According to Sieling, the first step to operational improvement might be understanding that it's not necessarily the technology, but rather the data it produces, that is the key to informing positive change.
"The conversation we're having most often right now is regarding the goal of educating farmers on the value of the data," Sieling says. "Whether it's coming from your red equipment or your green equipment, you need to make sure you utilize it. Too much of the information available is not used today. So we're spending a lot of time talking to growers about what's available and what of it is useful. And we discuss with them what could actually bring true value to the farm. Around this precision ag data peak, farmers are being presented with more and more options. Many new companies are bringing great ideas and concepts to the table, but at the end of the day, we can assume that in two or three years, half of these companies won't be here anymore. Growers are going to need to decide on the technologies that bring the most value to the table. We can help them realize which data can be best applied to improve their operations."
For farmers conditioned by experience to believe that only one metric matters, the process requires both patience and an open mind, but the result can be a refreshing full-systems view as well as the intended effect of increased ROI.
"It's not just yield data," Sieling points out. "It's the information that we can gather with a higher level of soil sampling, for instance, and our ability to collect a wide range of data that really becomes a database about someone's farm. Taking that data analysis to the next level can be what takes the farm to the next level. The YieldPoint team is educated on what exists outside of what you have. What we can bring to the farm is in data that can be used to make better decisions. The data starts to paint the picture. And then the agronomist identifies particular adjustments indicated by the data. It's a great cycle of expertise.
"I think having people with different backgrounds can bring a lot of value to agriculture," Sieling goes on to say. "I have a computer technology and a sales and marketing background. While I've lived in a farm community my entire life, I don't have a family farm. My interest has always been technology in general, and how technology can make your life easier. As a group, our YieldPoint team enjoys what we do because we actually enjoy going through all that data to make things better. If we can take all that information and give a recommendation that's going to help the grower make anextra thirty to forty dollars an acre, that's something you can go home and take a lot of pride in at the end of the day."
Certainly, his path to a career in agriculture is novel, but it's hard to call Sieling's role unexpected. Helping farmers make better farms with data seems like the perfect fit for this rurally raised, self-confessed data junkie. Listen to the passion in his voice, and it's easy to see why agriculture isn't where he ended up, but rather where he belongs.
YieldPoint is a trademark of CHS Inc.