Iowa AgState project to help harness benefits of ‘Big Data’

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Leading Iowa farm and commodity organizations are backing an ambitious project that will harness the power of agricultural data to the benefit of farmers.

The “Big Data Strategy and Implementation Plan,” backed by Iowa AgState and developed by The Hale Group of Danvers, Mass., will begin immediately by obtaining all relevant facts about how agricultural data is collected, shared, analyzed and used.

Following this in-depth assessment, a strategy and action plan will be formulated by year’s end enabling farmers to better understand their data, industry strategies and objectives for Big Data and how best to capture the value of the data they produce without compromising proprietary information and intellectual property rights.

The Hale Group defines Big Data as both structured and unstructured data whose scale, diversity and complexity require new techniques and analytics to manage and interpret it and extract knowledge and value from it.

Brian Kemp, Iowa Soybean Association president and AgState chair, said Big Data isn’t a new issue for agriculture. However, the ability to collect, interpret and manipulate data has increased exponentially, requiring immediate action.

“This project will be conducted at the strategic level addressing many components, namely data ownership and control,” said Kemp, who farms near Sibley. “By harnessing the knowledge of existing data and how it can be used, farmers can influence policy more effectively, develop appropriate user and privacy agreements and drive mutually beneficial relationships with those whom we do business.”

Kemp said the project will:

  • Support the education of farmers on the opportunities presented by agricultural Big Data.
  • Help farmers understand and evaluate the various Big Data business models offered by industry and how to capture value from the data.
  • Empower farmers as participants in the local, state, and national level discussions on the issues of Big Data.
  • Provide information that can be used to inform and influence Big Data policies, regulations and technology.
  • Dean Lemke, nutrient management and environmental stewardship director of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa and member of the AgState Big Data task force, said the project will complement other regional and national projects focused on similar concerns and opportunities.

“The Hale Group has unique capabilities to do the work to benefit the greater industry,” Lemke said. “They will do a thorough job of gathering information from many sources on the topic of Big Data, define what’s most meaningful to farmers and how they can capitalize on it and then share these findings with all stakeholders.

“Ultimately and collectively, a better understanding and use of data will help farmers continuously improve,” Lemke added. “It will also give farmers a voice and leverage in matters that affect their business.”

Bob Ludwig of The Hale Group said farmers do not want to “stop Big Data” but influence the way it’s developed and rolled out to growers.

“It will bring great benefits to agriculture and the world at large,” he said. “But it needs to be monitored to make sure it’s fair to farmers.”


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