Addressing big data confusion

Big data is data with a scale, diversity, and complexity that requires new architecture, techniques, algorithms, and analytics to manage it and extract value and hidden knowledge from it.

So what exactly does that mean? This data includes large collections of farm data that is being used by farmers, companies, and government agencies to aid in decision making related to crop production and management practices as well as better predictions around nutrient and water availability. It is important to understand what value all of this farm data provides to the producer. By using farm data to drive input management and other farm decisions, producers can identify and quantify limiting productivity variables.

The big data flow starts on the farm:

  • A farmer will upload farm and personal data from ground and equipment sensors, drones, etc.
  • An agricultural Technology Provider (ATP) will aggregate farmer’s data, combines other relevant data set, and applies algorithms to analyze.
  • The ATP then gives the farmer a customized solution or recommendation based on data received.
  • The farmer can then use the recommendations provided by the ATP to make agronomic, economic, and farm management decisions on their farm.

By using farm data to drive input management and other farm decisions, producers can identify and quantify which productivity variables are limiting agronomic growth. With agriculture becoming digital, it is important to understand how that data is being collected, interpreted, and then used. This digital agriculture concept can be overwhelming, and this series aims to make sense of the big data presence within the agricultural community.

In early 2015, a group of 34 organizations representing commodity groups, ag technology providers, seed companies, and other agribusinesses joined together to support 13 principles that address farmer’s challenges and concerns surrounding Big Data and digital agriculture. This policy was drafted by the American Farm Bureau Federation and titled Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data.

Now more than ever, growers need to be aware of how their data is being used. As a grower, ask questions. It is in your best interest to ask and learn all there is to know about something you don’t understand. Knowing about digital agriculture is the first step towards being a good data steward and making better agronomic decisions.

The agriculture technology sector continues to be troubled with “big data” being of interest to many in and out of agriculture. A recent report indicated that 2015 agriculture technology investment doubled from the $2.36 billion that was observed in 2014. Big data can provide opportunities for farmers and other in agriculture but uncertainty, mostly expressed as skepticism and mistrust, remains at the grassroots level. Big data may significantly affect many aspects of the agricultural industry, but the full extent and nature of its eventual impacts remain uncertain. To help gather farmers’ understanding and concerns related to Big Data, the American Farm Bureau is conducting a survey:

Survey link:

Farmers from Ohio are encouraged to take time and complete this online survey. It is important to hear from you on this topic as it remains a significant interest as observed in 2014 and 2015 investments. Find more information at

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