The agriculture industry doesn’t just grow crops, it also cultivates important data that helps organizations in the agricultural chain to gain a more wholistic understanding of the potential for harvesting greater quality and quantities of U.S. products.
With smart agriculture data sets, farmers gain precision understanding of every acre in their fields. And further downstream, retailers and technology manufacturers are able to tailor their innovative equipment and services with precision focus and yield-producing inputs.
The Agricultural Digitization “Boom”
Digitization in agriculture has rapidly accelerated over the past decade and the pace of innovation continues to increase. On its own, digital data has some value, but the depth and quality come when a range of data, inputs and technology are combined and easily shared for wide access.
The Dire Need for Data Sharing
According to Forbes.com, manufacturers are moving to pay producers for outcomes. Rebate and subsidy programs are changing to reflect the new expectations placed on the rural economy and food standards. “To comply, it’s important that farmers, producers and input providers demonstrate good stewardship and adherence to the rules. Together, these new conditions require all members of the agricultural and food production sector to have access to a unified data set that is easy to understand and share with stakeholders. Only through such a mechanism can validation and revenue generation be mutually assured.”
However, when it comes to data sharing, there seems to exist a struggle across the agricultural sector due to a lack of standards. With no common understanding of how to represent on-farm practices, new solutions often require farmers to enter their historical data multiple times.
“This is a major source of inefficiency,” says Jack Marck, Managing Director of the Illinois AgTech Accelerator at the University of Illinois. “From the grower to the retailer to the startups that are working across the industry – everyone is struggling due to a lack of standards in data collection which leads to an inability to move that data between systems, which creates significant data entry work for farmers.”
Growing Initiatives to Improve Agriculture Data Collaboration
Marck is part of a new initiative being led by IEEE Standard Association (IEEE SA). The group works with innovative technologies such as blockchain-based supply chain management solutions, Al-based digital agronomy, autonomous and semiautonomous machines, and loT/remote sensing solutions which have created an overwhelming amount of information.
The goals of this group are to understand the current state of ag data interoperability (e.g., through workshops and conferences) and recommend best practices and guidelines for increasing collaboration around ag data collection, security, and management. Within these collaborations, IEEE SA will propose standards and certificates for data providers and consumers to accelerate innovation.
“We believe that understanding agricultural supply chain data needs will benefit both small producers and large operations, related suppliers, including hardware and software vendors, as well as academic researchers and data standards developers,” says Marck. “Understanding gaps in data and data infrastructures may also help funding agencies and venture capital firms prioritize new investments in the food supply chain space.”
Continues Marck, “Addressing on-farm data quality at the source by standardizing how that data is stored and managed has significant implications across the value chain from accurately measuring sustainability practices on the farm to increasing supply chain integrity.”
The group, known as the SmartAg Team, is starting small, gathering information from stakeholders to identify current pain points and opportunities as well as examining potential solutions. As the team refines its understanding of the current landscape of problems and solutions, they will focus on platform-level interoperability to facilitate data compatibility and flow between key technologies across on-farm, supply chain, and end use.
“At the end of the day, farmers are already expected to be expert agronomists, mechanics, and meteorologists. It’s unfair that we expect them to be data analysts as well,” says Marck. “We want to not only create common denominators for data, but to create more seamless platforms for data sharing and access. We want to simplify data management for our growers so that they can more easily benefit from digital agronomy tools and the growing opportunities to monetize their data through partnerships across the supply chain.”
Adds Marck, “We’re ready to help our growers tell stories with some really compelling outcomes.”