It seems that last year was the year of the cloud and this year is the year of “big data.” Precision ag companies are talking big data in many ways, and presentations referring to big data were a large part of the three-day schedule of the precision InfoAg Conference held during July.

Big data’s primary attribute is data volume. Whereas in the past we talked about batches of data to process, now we are talking about continuously gathering and adding data. Then this leads to velocity in gathering data as another defining factor. Ultimately, real time is as fast as data can possibly be compiled and that is the goal for working with big data.

One of the things that makes big data so huge is that links and systems are being put in place so that data can come from a larger variety of sources than ever before.

So, one definition that I dug up to define big data makes the most sense to me. “Big data is high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making.”

What seems obvious is that big data can have different meanings to different ag professionals and different companies, just like sustainability has different meanings and definitions by different companies and groups.

Cloud computing and data storage makes the use of big data possible. Discussion of the cloud and how it relates to big data was included in several presentations at InfoAg.

Even prior to the conference starting, SST Software conducted an education and product introduction meeting for hundreds of customers that included a presentation about big data from SST’s point of view. The company explained that its Sirrus product plus the cloud plus agX allows the use of big data for its customers. Sirrus is a mobile interface that allows the collection, viewing, reporting and transfer of site-specific data.

As was explained, there is easily the potential to gather 225 megabytes of data per acre per growing season, including video, from a grower’s field. But data doesn’t have to stop with one farmer’s field; it can include hundreds of farmers’ composite data, U.S. government data and a multitude of data from various agricultural sources.

What remains as the most important question is whether growers are willing to “interact” with large data pools—share their data in a secure method—and feel like they aren’t losing privacy or a competitive edge.

Customized looks at big data and analysis is becoming really huge in agriculture. In another year, precision ag using cloud-based technology and big data will be a lot further along than this year.

For more than this one reason, the InfoAg Conference is going to become an annual event. The conference has grown tremendously from more than 700 attendees in 2011 to more than 1,100 in 2013. This year’s conference included the biggest trade show in its history; part of that was because there are more companies offering precision ag hardware, software and services.

With rapidly growing precision ag acceptance and enactment by ag retailers, crop consultants and farmers, it makes sense that InfoAg become an annual conference instead of an every other year event. The 2014 conference will be held in St. Louis for the first time.

It appears that an explosion in use of precision ag technology by a much larger percentage of farmers is just around the corner. Ag retailers, crop consultants and farm managers have to show leadership to their clients in this arena.