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Big_Data2.jpgHelping the nation’s farmers understand and capitalize on the digital evolution in agriculture commonly known as Big Data will be the topic of U.S. farming’s first major Big Data workshop, scheduled August 25 at Iowa State University in Ames.

Many farm technology experts recognize that Big Data offers immense promise for U.S. agriculture in terms of risk management and decision making, while conceding that many challenges remain.

The workshop is designed to identify and address many of the concerns farmers have expressed about Big Data, while also demonstrating how it ultimately will benefit farmers.

Becoming a Better Producer

“Big Data is about becoming a better producer,” says Dr. Matthew Darr, an associate professor of bioystems engineering at Iowa State University and one of the workshop organizers.  “Ask any grower near retirement if they are farming smarter than they did when they started in ag and they would all say yes.”

“This comes from the slow and measured adoption of production practices, genetics and tools for improved productivity.”

Darr says farmers should interpret the advent of Big Data for what it is: not only as the latest advance in farming but also one that will ensure that technological innovations in farming will occur at even faster rates in the future.

“Big Data offers the ability to learn more each year about how you farm in a way that leads to faster production and new practices,” Darr says. “I often tell growers that as I see it, Big Data offers them the opportunity to pack 50 years of farming knowledge into a 40-year farming career.

Concerns about Big Data

Some producers fear Big Data not only because of its potential to erode personal decision making but also because of its threat to privacy

Others have expressed confusion about how they ultimately will derive value from the data already being generated by precision farming technology, such as yield maps, he says. 

“How do I extract the most value from all the data I’m collecting and, equally important, is what I’m collecting valid data? These are among the most widely asked questions raised by producers and they will be major topics of discussion at the workshop,” says Dr. John Fulton, head of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s crops team and Alabama Farmers Federation Eminent Agriculture Professor in Auburn University’s Department of Biosystems Engineering.

“The value farmers derive from this data will vary greatly from producer to producer, and one of our challenges within the ag industry will be developing examples to illustrate the value of data for growers.”

Along with Darr, Fulton is one of the three principal organizers of the conference, which also includes Dr. Scott Shearer, professor and chairman of the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering at The Ohio State University.

The workshop, organized by PrecisionAg.com in cooperation with leading educators and industrial experts, will show farmers ways that they can begin taking control of their data, whether this involves a decision to manage this data on their own or to enlist the help of a third party. 

Workshop Aimed at Southern as well as Midwestern Producers

Fulton says he is excited that the workshop organizers are making a concerted effort to enlist the participation and views of Southern producers.

“The effort to include the South as a partner in this event is an important consideration, because cropping systems are more diverse than the Midwest and data service offerings will look different,”

He urges Southern commodity group leaders and farmers to make a special effort to attend the workshop.

The workshop will be the first of many aimed at giving U.S. producers a clearer picture of the implications and promise of Big Data, according to Fulton.

One important factor to consider, Fulton says, is that even though some farmers fear it, Big Data ultimately will become an integral facet of farm management and production and one that producers can no longer ignore.

 “An understanding of Big Data will be a prerequisite for farming in the future,” he says. “If you want to market your crops in the future, you will need to demonstrate to people purchasing food that crops were raised in an environmentally sustainable manner.

“Data provides an effective and streamlined way to demonstrate this fact.”

For more information about the workshop, contact Dan Ulrich, Associate Publisher of CropLife Media Group, at (440) 602-9183 or e-mail him at DEUlrich@meistermedia.com

 


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