7 Ways Big Data Is Transforming How We Farm

7 major lessons farmers should draw from this Big Data revolution.

Big Data Farming

By Jim Langcuster, Alabama Cooperative Extension System Southeast Farm Press

Big data.  If you haven’t yet heard that term dropped in casual conversation with other farmers, you likely will — soon.

It is the term commonly used to describe the colossal amounts of information that are being generated throughout the world at breakneck speed and that are becoming so large and complex that processing, assessing and storing it often prove challenging.

How big is big data? If the data now stored across the planet were printed in books, these books would cover the entire surface of the United States some 52 layers deep, according to Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier, authors of a new book titled “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think.”

People and organizations across the planet are already harnessing this data to accomplish all sorts of things.

Three people who have witnessed the marriage of precision farming and big data within the last few years say farming is primed to benefit too.

John P. Fulton, an Auburn University professor of biosystems engineering who heads the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s crops team; Simerjeet Virk, a bioystems research engineer at Auburn University; and Andrew Williamson, a British cereal crops producer and Nuffield Farming Scholar, contend that data compiled in real time are already providing producers with a clearer, more comprehensive picture of all facets of farming, whether this happens to be soil science, seed rates, fertilizer optimization or weed and pest control.

They predict that this growing body of data will ultimately free producers of much of the day-to-day guesswork associated with farming.

The three have identified seven major lessons farmers should draw from this Big Data revolution.

Seven big data lessons

1. Big data will secure a considerably clearer farming picture.

Williamson, who farms more than 900 acres of cereal crops near Birmingham, England, is one of a growing number of producers around the world harnessing big data.  He began yield mapping in 2007, convinced that mapping offered “the quickest way to get a lot of data in order to move forward.”

He followed this with targeted soil sampling to determine a correlation between soil nutrient variability and yields.  He later began using a real-time sensor to apply in-crop nitrogen at varying rates based on the amounts of chlorophyll detected in the plants.

Williamson further enhanced this picture by measuring the soil electrical conductivity to build prescription maps — a picture he has recently enhanced with pest, weed and yield data.

Virk says that the kind of refined farming pictures Williamson and other farmers around the world are compiling on the basis of farming data are destined to become even clearer in the future — not only clearer but better integrated.

“The next step will be a cloud-based system that integrates all facets of farming on behalf of producers,” he says.

2. Along with clarity comes diversity.

“The farming picture will not only become more refined but also more diverse,” says Fulton, who draws a comparison with the different ways individual homeowners manage their landscapes.  READ MORE…

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