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Navigate Big Data

October 7, 2013
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New solutions help manage volumes of farm data

Farmers have long been data gatherers. Before home computers, smartphones and iPads, producers carried notepads in their front pocket filled with farm records. Most of the data, like soil temperatures and calving dates, was free and easy to collect.

Today in agriculture, data patterns are changing radically. Precision ag technology allows farmers to track a staggering amount of agronomic, herd management and equipment data. Master the data, and you can master better operational efficiency on the farm. Now, agribusinesses are finding better ways to manage mountains of data so the signal isn’t lost in all the noise.

Some of the in-field information farmers can capture includes:


  • A snapshot view of current weather conditions for each field
  • Hourly and daily high-resolution weather forecasts for each field
  • Field-level wind speed and direction during spraying days
  • Precipitation and heat unit accumulation across all fields
  • Weather alerts regarding crops at risk, based on seasonal patterns

"In today’s complex, data-intense farming operations, growers need a way to sort through all their data to make better decisions," says Paul Schickler, DuPont Pioneer president. "Information is only relevant if it’s used in a way that can help increase the entire farm operation’s profitability."

One of the challenges for farmers is that they receive lots of little clouds, information dressed up with some analytics and pretty charts, notes David Friedberg, CEO of The Climate Corporation.

"We have seen this in other industries," says Friedberg, who has worked in Silicon Valley for years. "You start with this flood of data. Then you have to bring the sophistication of deep modeling for ease of use, but often you lose the end user in the process. We don’t want to do this in agriculture. There is too much at stake in feeding the world."

Big Data Help. The end goal is to help producers with daily decision making, says Friedberg. For example, The Climate Corporation launched, which provides up-to-the-minute data for monitoring at the field level, yield forecasting, crop insights and support for daily and seasonal production decisions. is a free service that allows growers to get snapshot views of recent and forecasted precipitation and other weather conditions on their fields. Farmers simply select their fields through an interactive map, save those fields, and check them at any time from a computer, tablet or smartphone.

With more than 200 terabytes of analysis, data from more than 30 unique data sources, 22 weather datasets ingested multiple times a day and a growing set of third-party data sources, this under-lying technology enables rapid new feature development for

"Our goal is to make it easy enough for a farmer to use it himself or herself," says Friedberg. "What sets us apart is we want to embrace the fact we are based in Silicon Valley. We are a technology company that wants to solve problems."

Some farm data ventures, such as the Monsanto Integrated Farming Systems program, are developing farm-specific field prescriptions that deliver localized hybrid and planting rate recommendations. The initial offering, called FieldScripts, will double its testing efforts this year via Monsanto’s Ground Breakers research program with DeKalb corn hybrids.

With FieldScripts, the prescription is delivered to farmers as a complete product. Other partnerships between seed companies and precision technology let farmers adjust parameters during the selection process.

On the equipment side, John Deere is unlocking environmental data for farmers to better understand real-time field conditions. Expanding on its Field Connect soil-moisture monitoring system introduced in 2012, John Deere has added environmental sensors and features that allow farmers to document more information directly from the tractor, says Patrick Sikora, John Deere marketing manager.

"By adding more sensory data, such as moisture sensors and environmental field conditions, within field parameters, farmers can learn things that might impact the planting dates," explains Sikora.

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - October 2013

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