From precision ag to big data

Created: 1/16/14 (Thu) | Topic: Education

Precision ag is being replaced with “Big Data” and “AgInformatics” as sources of innovation in agriculture, Matt Bechdol, founder of GeoSilos, a consulting firm focused on leveraging place-based solutions for agriculture, said at a workshop at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 95th Annual Convention.

“I don’t like the term ‘precision ag’ anymore,” said Bechdol. “Especially if we’re not doing anything precise with it. We’re going to move to predictive ag and prescriptive ag. We’re going to move beyond precision ag with Big Data.”

Bechdol’s consulting firm helps agricultural companies maximize the use of data and conducts analyses for businesses, policy makers and economists. Bechdol said data is the modern agricultural commodity and that place-based approaches are important tools in adding value because roughly 80 percent of all data has a geographical element.

A takeover of new technology is coming soon, according to Bechdol. Wearable technology, for example, like the Fitbit and Google glasses are poised to be used by farmers to help make better planting decisions in real-time while walking their fields.

Bechdol went on to discuss apps but criticized their inability to provide the full picture of an organization’s data in one place. “Here’s my problem with apps. Apps don’t talk to other apps and that’s got to change.”

He predicted a rise in dashboards and benchmarking tools that can aggregate data from various apps to make it easier for farmers to access and utilize it.

On a larger scale, Bechdol said a technique called “fly and scan” using unmanned aircraft, or drones, will play an increasing role in collecting data for crop producers.

Commenting on the downside of big data collection, Bechdol warned attendees to read the terms of service agreements when signing up for free email accounts or downloading operating systems on tablets and cell phones.

“They make you agree to share your data with their affiliates, which I’m not saying is malicious, but it’s not clear what their intentions are,” said Bechdol.

With all this rapidly changing and newly available technology and data, Bechdol called upon Farm Bureau to bring stability, clarity and guidance to farmers who are unsure how to capture and utilize Big Data.

“Because [change is] coming and it’s going to make the difference between the strong and the weak,” said Bechdol.

But ultimately, Bechdol believes Big Data and AgInformatics will help developing nations acquire the information they need to sustainably feed the world’s growing population.

“I don’t think the United States is going to feed the world in [the year] 2050.” Bechdol said. “I think we’re going to create innovations to help the world feed itself.”

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