The Growth of Big Data in the Agricultural Sector

Big Data's Impact on Farming


Agriculture isn’t generally thought of as a high tech industry, but over the past decade the reliance of the industry upon the digital realm has skyrocketed. Not only has the presence of real time data management made safety of workers and produce stronger, it has allowed greater efficiency in farm management.

As more and more of the traditional farm machinery have become digitized, the Ag sector has become one of the leaders in the Internet of Things (IoT). Sensors that are placed strategically can help the farmer determine the best crops to plant, when to plant, and where. There are apps which can recommend harvest times and estimate the yield a farmer can expect for their various crops. All this information, which is accessible from any tablet or phone, allows the farmer in the field to better manage his or her business while still remaining connected to the farm and its daily life cycle. Add this to the various kinds of farm machinery that have become IP-enabled and there is little on a farm that technology is not enhancing.

Once the data from the sensors leaves the sensors, it is carried up to the cloud. It’s stored there in order to keep it accessible to users from multiple devices at the same time. Cloud enabling a mission critical application also allows easy access to programmers and support staff who would otherwise need secure network access to reach in for bug fixes. Hosting an application offsite also allows you to better segregate your business and personal affairs. Storing key systems data in the cloud can provide a core upside in the fact that the host maintains the backups, security fixes, configuration tweaks, are handled for you. However, in addition, cloud storage of farm management data also allows it to be securely accessed from anywhere, by the appropriate people.

This is where the strengths of big data related tools like Hadoop Spark, and agriculture come together to show some extraordinary management intelligence. The ability to predict yield is of course the gold standard for farmers. The only way for predictions like that to matter is to have them based on a measurable historical output. The best way to get quantifiable external data is by using the information returned from the sensors that monitor the farm. Collecting all that information into a format that any farmer can interpret in the field, from a smartphone or tablet, is the real benefit  that big data is bringing to the ag sector.

Precision agriculture is an industry that has a highly anticipated growth curve over the next three years. Expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2018, the GPS and sensor data that farms generate will enable more detailed farm management than ever before. Everything from water use to crop yields can not only be predicted but also controlled. The more data that’s collected and aggregated, the more precise a farmer can be about when and what to plant.

The result of this revolution in farming, while not meaning to be too dramatic, may very well be the continued existence of the human race. There is a population explosion on the horizon, and food production is going to need to increase by approximately 70% in order to keep up. With natural resources limited and population centers already stressed, the need for increased efficiency in farming is here today.

Additional needs for compliance with federal and state regulations and easy to use reporting to state and county governments are commonly referenced in the ag community. Bidirectional communication that will allow a farmer to adjust the irrigation schedule from home is only icing on the cake.

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