Engineer wants ag data easier to access
ROCKVILLE, Md. — For too long, farm manufacturers and other agricultural companies have kept precision farming data inside silos that stunt digital entrepreneurship and deprive farmers of the full benefits of an ongoing revolution in data analytics, a Purdue University engineer said last week.
The agricultural industry should make farming data more easily sharable and less troublesome for farmers — while maximizing data privacy — to boost yields and reduce environmental impacts, said Aaron Ault, a senior research engineer, at the F3 Tech Accelerator Program’s fall symposium at The Universities at Shady Grove on Nov. 28.
“The real thing (farmers) want from data is not to think about it,” he said.
Ault, a project leader with the Open Agricultural Data Alliance, is helping to build a system that would allow for the development of new products that could harness farmer data and improve outcomes on fields worldwide.
But to do that, farm data needs to be more easily exchangeable between developers, companies, farmers and academics working on those issues.
“We don’t have the data,” Ault said. “We need the data.”
Farmers, many of whom have years of saved field and crop data, want their hardware and software systems to share information — from their combines to their planters to their local agronomist. They often struggle with an overwhelming web of data they need to make decisions on their fields.
Sometimes, useful information, such as as-applied fertilizer data from a local fertilizer co-op or irrigator outlines, go unutilized. A cloud-based system allowing for the exchange of a farmer’s data between these parties would be ideal, he said.
Open-source systems helped create the roaring tech industry that exists today, he said.
Ault, who grows grain and raises cattle in Indiana, said he created his own app designed to assist with livestock antibiotic treatments.
With the help of open-source code, he was able to build the app in 20 hours, he said. Otherwise, it would have taken him six months.
Open-source systems allow “ideas to mate more often,” he said.
Agriculture’s closed approach to data has led to fewer people innovating in the space, Ault said.
He showed the audience a complex, 16-step interface that farmers are forced to navigate to simply drive a tractor to their field — a typical example of cumbersome farm technology, he said.
“You’ve got to focus on making that as easy as possible,” he said.
Tech investors see agriculture as the “next horizon” for innovation, Ault said. It’s an industry that needs to integrate millions of machines, satellites and millions of acres while satisfying all manner of environmental concerns and privacy issues.
“We have some of the best tech problems in the world,” he said.
The F3 Tech Accelerator Program, started in 2017, is a Maryland initiative that provides entrepreneurs, startups and companies with resources to develop new products and services for the agriculture and aquaculture industries.
“You can spend your life making yet another social networking app or you can help feed the world,” Ault said.