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Big Data is agriculture’s big blank on the map

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  • Big Data is giant blank on the map and U.S. agriculture is charging right toward it. Nobody, including farmers, gets to opt out of the unintended consequences of digital technology.

Big Data is terra incognita for agriculture; a giant blank on the map, but for whatever the blank spot holds — the good and the bad — U.S. agriculture is charging right toward it.

The promise of new technology has always been a double-edged sword: Stand still and get left behind, move too fast and get hammered. There is seldom a reasonable medium beyond banal “proceed with caution” warnings.

The digital age has allowed GPS and precision agriculture to transform farming capabilities and hyperbole doesn’t do justice to the extent of the technological leap. But nobody, including farmers, gets to opt out of the unintended consequences of digital technology. Over the last several years, at a staccato pace, news headlines have been splashed with Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, NSA data gathering, Target security holes, EPA farmer info releases, and too many others. The sheer volume of data gaps and potential slip-ups is dizzying and begs the question: Is all digital data destined for a breach?

 

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And for agriculture producers, a crack in the data dike wouldn’t be a matter of a compromised credit card, eBay password, or Facebook information — those losses carry negligible consequences compared with a government audit, EPA investigation, crop insurance adjustments, environmental protests, agroterror threats, or foreign theft. (If Chinese ag spies will crawl through a corn field to steal seed, they’ll surely try to hijack the Big Data train.)

 

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Farmers have shared various forms of crop data with agribusiness for several years, but the rate and specificity is taking a significant jump. From Daniel Charles at NPR: “Starting this year, farmers across the Midwest can sign up for a service that lets big agribusiness collect data from their farms, minute by minute, as they plant and harvest their crops. Monsanto and John Deere are offering competing versions of this service. Both are promising to mine that data for tips that will put more money in farmers’ pockets.” The mass of accumulated data will allow agribusiness companies to offer an invaluable, tailor-made regimen of seed, soil and weather data to a farmer.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 11, 2014

My worry is about Big Data being able to assemble knowledge to be able to manipulate and profit from production data before anyone else is aware of changing events that can move markets.

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