Data-Driven Farming is the thoughtful use of big data to supplement on-farm precision agriculture. It means having the right farm data, at the right time, to make better decisions that improve long-term profitability. “Big data” is a big buzzword. Everyone talks about it, but only a very small percentage of farmers actually use big data because so much of it is irrelevant or junk. How to get at the stuff that matters? This is a big question, and some of the top thinkers in farming have me convinced that things are changing in a big way.
Joyce Hunter, USDA Deputy Chief Information Officer for Policy and Planning, is really good at defining the components of data-driven farming and explaining how the pieced are connected. Her speeches and presentations have been most useful in helping me understand what matters in this conversation. Ms. Hunter’s recent presentation on the USDA’s commitment to open data contained several slides that really helped things click into place for me.
Ms. Hunter uses Precision Ag mostly in the context of on-farm data. This is decision making based on the data generated on the farm. So in this case you know the data is relevant. The biggest challenge is to collect it and implement a process for using it.
When Ms. Hunter uses the term ‘big data’, she’s referring to all relevant data not collected on-farm. Weather data, economic data, soil data, and the entire universe of academic research, 3rd party data and commodity markets. This is where things get overwhelming and the data gets overwhelming in a hurry.
A Staged Approach to Data-Driven Farming
I’ve come to see that farms should start with a good decision-making process. The first data to feed into that system is on-farm precision ag data. This is your own data that is hyper-relevant to your operation. Putting methods in place to collect this accurately and feed it into a decision-making system is a powerful foundation. Big data comes next. You can and should be very picky about what data you allow into your decision making system. Helping you evaluate data sources is what the USDA is mission-driven to do under the OpenAg initiative.
Data-Driven Farming is the thoughtful use of big data to supplement on-farm precision agriculture. It means having the right farm data, at the right time, to make better decisions that improve long-term profitability. If you have a good system in place for using data to make the decisions in this slide below. Then you’re a data-driven farmer.