Open Data and Agriculture: Looking Towards the Future

By Asha Velay

Data is a part of our everyday lives. Most industries collect relevant data about their markets and use it to improve business practices and/or solve problems in that industry or community. The agriculture industry is no different – they have increasingly turned to open data to assist in crop production.

One third of America’s food supply is discarded every year due to uncertainty about weather, pests and inefficiencies in planting, harvesting, water use and trucking, as well as uncertainty about weather, pests, consumer demand. Open data can help address this problem be feeding better predictive modeling technologies that determine the best conditions for crops and livestock – ultimately increasing production and improving delivery of healthy foods.

A number of “ag tech” companies are using open data. One startup, Farmer’s Business Network,  gathers data about crop yields, supply prices and farm practices and assists over 3000 small farms, allowing these farms to compete with larger suppliers. In 2017, investors spent $40 million on Farmers Business Network.

Scientists are using open data satellite images and historical records to predict crop yields across America. Additionally, computer algorithms allow for scientists to analyze weather and crop data over the years. This analysis allows farmers to predict crop yields more accurately and start harvesting at optimal times.

Because of their job demands, Farmers must make well-timed decisions about their crops, often with only one or two chances a year to get optimal results. Drone technology is proving to be a useful tool for these farmers, whose livelihood depends on their correct timing. Farmers use drones to survey crops and scan for diseases and pests. Because of the drones’ advanced sensory technology, farmers can be notified of any crop areas that need extra attention. Thanks to mobile app and camera technology, pictures and precise location points can be sent to a smart phone. As drone technology continues to make use of open data, some experts believe that drones will eventually move towards manual labor and plant the crops themselves, taking on the roles of both scanners and harvesters.  

The market for this type of farming software, which includes field mapping, yield monitoring, and weather forecasting, is expected to increase 14% by the year 2022 in the United States.

Scientists have analyzed plant data to eventually develop crops that can grow in any condition. While there is a debate about genetically modified organisms such as engineered seeds, some speculate this would put an end to world hunger and help impoverished communities.

In addition to rural communities, open data can help with urban farming – turning abandoned lots into small plots of land. The non-profit group 596 Acres used data from the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services to  compile a list of vacant lots that can be potentially used for urban agriculture. As we move towards the future, open data continues to be used by rural and urban communities alike.

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