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Key technology tips for harvest

With harvest in full swing, I thought it a good time to revisit a topic I have discussed in the past. 

Most farmers have likely developed their own system for tracking yields for crop insurance and farm management purposes, whether it be a high-tech yield monitor or a notepad and pen tucked in a shirt pocket. Too often we see that although the system served its initial purpose, it does not provide the farmer with a solid base of yield information if legal issues arise. Because it is difficult to anticipate whether a seemingly simple crop insurance claim or spray drift incident is going to turn into a full-blown lawsuit, it is important to implement good record-keeping procedures to track yields and protect yourself in the future.

In almost any crop insurance, crop damage or soil damage dispute, establishing an estimated crop yield for the tract for the current year and several years prior is crucial. Because of this, it is necessary to keep accurate records to verify the production that comes off of each tract and, as your child’s math teacher would say, to show your work.

Maintaining records of your yield data is also important. We have talked to farmers in the past who’ve tracked yields, but threw away the documentation at the end of harvest. Keeping track of the back-up documents can be important if you need to establish yields at some point, and these records are invaluable tools for attorneys. For each load of production, note the crop, the field name or number, the date of harvest, the vehicle or wagon, weight and moisture per load. In the event of damage, such as spray drift, segregate and weigh separately the production from the damaged portion and the healthy portion to the extent possible.

In instances where different farming practices are utilized, or there are different types or varieties of crop within one tract, production should also be segregated and tracked separately when practicable. Similarly, if a crop is insured for different purposes, as corn grain or silage for example, the production should also be tracked separately. If you have the technology, use it. Calibrate your equipment and back up the data so that it can be utilized in later years.

Keep records of where each load is delivered, whether it is stored or trucked straight to the elevator. Keep records of all load summaries and settlement sheets and mark scale tickets by field number or name. Managing this information in a spreadsheet using Microsoft Excel can provide both you and your attorneys with an exceptional array of useful information.

Our firm handles a variety of cases and issues for farmers and ranchers where this information becomes crucial. Precision field mapping and other uses of GPS technology can be incredibly valuable for farmers and ranchers both within and outside of the legal context. Several of our clients have shown us impressive analyses of their yields, inputs, and other data.

It is interesting to watch the adoption of new technologies in agriculture, partly because we are doing the same thing as agricultural law attorneys. Even outside the agricultural law setting, in other work we do for farmers and ranchers we are discovering how powerful new technologies can be, both for managing and analyzing data. We are often more effective advocates for our farmer and rancher clients when we are able to utilize new technology, but this of course depends on whether we have the data to input so that we can take advantage of the power of our computers.