Big Data, Small Data and Metadata - Do You Know the Difference?

March 2, 2016 07:50 AM

Farm data – how do I get it, what do I do with it, and how do I keep it out of other people’s hands? Those are common questions, according to Scott Sartor, manager at K • Coe Isom. But none may be more important than asking, “Can it help me in my farming operation?” he says.

“The short answer is yes, data can help you manage your farming operation,” he says, but adds that it’s important to clear up misconceptions about big data that will ultimately make it more useful. To start, he says farmers need to understand three different levels of data with which they can interact.

  1. Big data – this lives up to its name, analyzing numerous, disparate sources and simplifying complex data sets. Think “predictive analytics.”
  2. Metadata – this is data about data or a summary of multiple data sets, Sartor says. “A good example of metadata would be if I studied 10 different surveys of farmers’ attitudes about technology and did a report for you, summarizing them in one document,” he says.
  3. Small data – your own on-farm data.

“Now that we know the different types of data, we can bring the conversation down to the farm level,” he says.

Sartor further discusses the way farmers can use these three types of data to their advantage on his blog, “Making Farm Data Work for Your Operation.”

“The most important thing to know about data is that good data, when turned into actionable information, is a powerful tool for your farming operation,” he says.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has developed a cache of big data resources, including a series of instructional videos. Click here for details.

For all of AgWeb’s technology coverage, visit

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