Digitizing data in the field
Digital data entry in the field and post-harvest enhances research efficiencies, saving time, money, and protecting data integrity.
Collecting data on field crops is intensive and time consuming. CAIA affiliate faculty Joseph Oakes, Superintendent of the Eastern Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center (EVAREC), and Nicholas Santantonio, the new small grains breeder in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences (SPES), know this challenge personally as their team of staff and graduate students plant thousands of wheat and barley plots each fall, measure and record data in spring, and harvest and weigh seeds from those plots in June through August. The effort leads to an exhausted team as they push through from April through August. Typically notes and measurement data in the field are collected manually with pen and paper. Harvested seeds, by plot, are collected into bags, labeled, hand-weighed, and identifier and weights manually entered into the computer. The data are transcribed into spreadsheets. This collective effort results in excessive work hours and risk of errors in [handwriting] interpretation and data transcription. This summer, Drs. Oakes and Santantonio addressed this issue by transitioning to electronic data collection, both in the field and post-harvest and providing experiential learning opportunities to three undergraduate students. VT CALS undergraduate, Channing Saunders (Agribusiness program), and Chandler Jett and Austin Vaughn, both from Rappahannock Community College (Business Administration program), were trained and gained experience reading field maps on a hand-held electronic tablet, finding the appropriate test file in the software, and ensuring the data was properly uploaded to the online drive after it was collected. Plot seed bags were labeled with digital bar codes and scanned, which allowed the plot weight from the digital scale to be identified and electronically entered automatically into the computer directly to the appropriate file. The efficiency of using digital data entry, in the field and post-harvest processing, helped EVAREC to manage their budget and avoid excessive overtime labor expenses. They completed the time-intensive data collection and data entry more rapidly and with fewer errors (potential). The use of digital data collection and data entry tools provided the team some needed labor relief and provided three young researchers with the experiences of technology applications and innovations in agriculture. A portion of the summer experiential learning wages for the students was provided by the Southwest Virginia Node of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative through a grant to CAIA.