When Big Data in Agriculture became ‘a thing’

It could be argued that big data analytics in agriculture is an extension of and the next stage in precision agriculture. This is true. However there is a whole new thing coming, a much bigger thing, a massive disruption in the way food and fibre will be produced, sold and consumed around the world. BCA President, Catherine Livingstone captured the essence of it in her recent Press Club speech, when she said:

‘We thought that the connectivity enabled in the mid-nineties by the fixed line Internet and browser technology was disruptive; that was before 2007, when the mobile internet became a reality with the first smartphone. But that is nothing compared with the disruption we will see with the advent of the ‘internet of things.’

The turning point for big data in agriculture, the moment at which people started to sit up and take notice, was in 2013 when Monsanto paid US$930million for Climate Corp, a weather data and insurance tech company that was started by ex-Google employees. This signposted the merging of agriculture with data services, and signalled the shift of serious money into the emerging agri-tech sector that has taken off in Silicon Valley.

Climate Corp combine field level soil and crop data with external weather information gathered from radar, satellites and a network of 10,000 automated weather stations. This data is matched to a grid of the paddock to provide precipitation estimates, and also provide moisture accumulation for the field. The information is provided in a range of formats including field maps, to support management decisions. Entry level is free, upgrades to the fee level service provide more sophisticated information. My interest is in the soil data, and the research that Climate Corp is doing to build soil function algorithms into the service offering. I am delighted that Pradip Das from Climate Corp will be joining us at the Soil, Big Data and the Future of Agriculture conference, to explain it to us.

Monsanto’s move kicked off a real engagement in big data from the US farm sector, as Climate Corp’s service offering came online for farmers, and started the raising of some very real concerns among farmers. This article is worth reading to get a feel for the reaction. But the US farm sector then activated itself and started to take on some of the issues. Number one issue is farm data privacy and security. The American Farm Bureau Federation developed a set of principles, and industry signed on. Come to the conference to hear first hand from Mary Kay Thatcher, who negotiated the agreement. Australian farmers, take note, it is time for us to engage as well.

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