Navigate Big Data

October 6, 2013 08:13 PM
Navigate  Big Data

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.

Site-specific information allows producers to more efficiently use water resources, as well as schedule and perform other agronomic practices dependent on soil conditions.

From the sensors, field-specific soil moisture and environmental data is transmitted to a secure website for viewing, and John Deere Field Connect customers can program the system to receive alerts based on set parameters. Field Connect then charts the data from the readings over time, allowing producers to identify trends. The system can be customized to each field, depending on the customer’s objectives.

In the seed data world, DuPont Pioneer has expanded its support for a wide variety of farming decisions, including seed selection, in-season crop management and water and fertility management—all at a grower’s fingertips.

The first wave of services, branded as Pioneer Field360, can help farmers use data to increase productivity with timely and actionable information, Schickler says.

The suite of tools includes:

  • Pioneer Field360 Notes app, a GPS-based scouting tool, which streamlines and organizes field-by-field agronomic information that can be shared among DuPont Pioneer agronomists and farmers.
  • Pioneer Field 360 Tools app, which allows farmers to input key dates and calculate scenarios for multiple fields, such as crop stages.
  • Pioneer Field360 Select, a mobile subscription service that organizes field information and runs on any computer or tablet. The web-based software allows farmers to monitor their fields by "management layers" for multi-year analysis in real-time for precipitation and corn growth stage development.

Build on Big Data. The entire ag industry is moving into a "data-centric" era, notes David Nicholson, head of Bayer CropScience’s Research and Development. Using information from precision technology in a way that helps agriculture achieve the required 70% increase in productivity to feed a growing global population is the key to success, he says.

"When we think of future farmers, we see the grower as a CEO," says David Hollinrake, Bayer CropScience vice president of Agriculture Commercial Operations Marketing, adding that farming will increasingly become a business investment instead of a lifestyle choice.

"We want to be able to participate as an enabler of using data as a precision tool," Hollinrake says.

For example, Bayer launched its new e3 sustainable cotton program; for farmers who grow Certified FiberMax or authentic Stoneville cotton, e3 makes it possible for buyers to identify where their cotton was grown using a certification database.

Farm performance is then self-evaluated through the Fieldprint Calculator, an online tool designed by Field to Market—the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. The calculator self-assessment shows farmers the impact of farming practices on natural resources, helping them operate more efficiently and establishing a point of comparison with local data averages.

The hard and expensive part is turning data into a product, explains Friedberg, who was an early member of the corporate development team at Google, when the term Big Data was in its infancy.

How do we store and use all this information to meet business needs? Big data solutions take large amounts of structured and unstructured data, run algorithms against datasets to refine data and glean business-critical insight.

"Eventually, data will become ubiquitous and cost less," Friedberg says. "Right now, things cost money to transmit via broadband, but the cost of data is coming down and will go to zero."

Friedberg and others are working to take all that data and make something useful for farmers.

For more information and links to the farm data tools mentioned in this article, visit

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