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Data aggregation on the farm: Agriculture goes big

Farmers team up with Big Data to prepare for the coming boom in the world population.

By Ronda Swaney, contributing writer

Data collection and aggregation are bringing waves of innovation to an age-old profession. With the world population expected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050, according to the UN, feeding all these people will be a nearly impossible task for farmers who are not getting help from technology. This is where Big Data and data aggregation meet big agriculture, also known as "ag Big Data." Many of today's farmers are relying on ag Big Data to maintain profitability while meeting the needs of tomorrow's growing population.

The complex world of ag Big Data

Data aggregation in agriculture comes from field sensors, machine-to-machine data systems, satellites, GPS, yield software, and seed-planting hardware, to name only a few. Precision farming has become so exact that there is very little that Big Data doesn't touch or know.

Global agribusinesses are banking their futures on ag Big Data. Monsanto invested nearly $1 billion on the acquisition of Climate Corporation, which provides crop insurance based on weather data, calling it "the agriculture industry's most advanced technology platform combining hyper-local weather monitoring, agronomic data modeling, and high-resolution weather simulations to deliver a complete suite of full-season monitoring, analytics, and risk-management products."

Other major names in farming have invested heavily in the Big Data future of agriculture. John Deere recently purchased Precision Planting (previously part of Monsanto's Climate Corp.), which began their business focused on technology improvements that helped farmers plant more precisely. DuPont has put effort into decision services, such as DuPont Pioneer Encirca, which takes compiled data, analyzes it, and helps farmers make better planting decisions based on the analysis.

As with many other industries, the challenge lies in knowing how to act on the data. Agribusinesses and farmers have invested in data aggregation to make farming more precise and to deliver greater yields. Sensors inside farm equipment predict life and maintenance needs. Field sensors measure soil nutrients and moisture. GPS and satellites map fields to determine the most efficient plowing and planting patterns, and some farm equipment is even self-driving based on GPS coordinates. Drones visually inspect crops for pest or disease infestation, reducing the need for field visits and allowing labor resources to be spent elsewhere.

The data race between farmers and vendors

Farmers, like all business leaders, are concerned about what could happen if their data falls into the wrong hands.

 

The challenges facing agricultural Big Data parallel those found in other industries, particularly concerns about how data will be used and safeguarded. Farmers, like all business leaders, are concerned about what could happen if their data falls into the wrong hands. According to a recent Farm Bureau survey, 61 percent of farmers said they were worried that vendors will use their data to influence market decisions, and 77 percent of farmers want greater control over their own data and more transparency from the vendors who collect it.

Farmers also reported concerns about who owns the data. Many vendors collect and store information from their various sensors and software, and some enforce privacy terms stating that the data belongs to the vendor. Farmers are starting to form their own cooperatives. One such venture is the Farmers Business Network, an independent organization that invites farmers to submit their data and benchmark it against other farms.

Data aggregation and related services for farming are expected to grow as data gets cheaper and less friction exists between platforms and devices. The battle over who gets to own, use, and profit from the data will likely continue, while data security will also remain a concern.

Despite the battles that may be brewing, the promise remains: ag Big Data has resulted in optimizing planting patterns, predicting disease outbreaks in real time, responding to weather conditions, and creating better seeds and hybrids. It's these innovations that offer hope for feeding the 9.7 billion population of tomorrow.

To read more about the future of technology in agriculture, read the HPE Business Insights article "High-tech industry: The future of farming." For an up-close look at Big Data across all industries, register for HPE's Big Data Conference 2016, held in Boston, August 29–September 1, 2016.

Ronda Swaney is a professional B2B writer, blogger, and IT and healthcare content marketer.

 

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