Precision Ag & Big Data Learning

There is ceaseless talk today about “big” data in agriculture but rarely about the learning that must accompany it. Big data refers to the voluminous flow of data that is being generated by machines, devices, and software programs. It is a product of the ever expanding computer and information age. The continued addition of new technologies, such as drones, in precision agriculture contributes to a growing body of data that is being collected and disseminated at a higher frequency and to a broader audience. Recipients of big data in many cases do not know what to do with it and therefore may need to seek “big” learning. Big learning is an outcome of the second information revolution and is best understood in a historical context.

The first information revolution started with the invention of the movable type printing press in the mid-15th century. Some historians refer to the creation and circulation of printed books at the end of the medieval period as “new” learning. In a matter of years, the transfer of knowledge went from handwritten documents and oral history to the printed page. According to Wikipedia, over eight million books had been printed by the turn of the 16th century. By the end of the 16th century, an increasing fraction of first-printed books were about botany and agriculture. Experience with growing all kinds of crops in different environments was systematically catalogued for the first time. A progressive farmer at that time had only to learn to read in order to gain access to the wondrous worlds of animal and crop “husbandrie.”

In a Food and Agriculture (FAO) publication entitled “Improving Agricultural Extension: A Reference Manual,” there is a chapter by Gwyn Jones and Chris Garforth on the history of agricultural extension. The authors note that the first practical attempt at “university extension” started a little over 150 years ago in England. University educators began to provide lectures on a range of subjects important to a rapidly industrializing urban population. Agricultural extension came into being at the end of the 19th century in England and was started about a decade later in the U.S.

The Land Grant Impact

After the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862, land grant institutions were established in each American state to promote the education of farmers. Colleges given federal land grant funds began setting up experimental plots and inviting farmers to review the results. In quick succession during the first two decades of the 20th century, several states created county extension agents and forerunners of what would become known as 4H clubs. Educators at that time understood the importance of education with each introduction of new technology or practice in agriculture.

Aided by federal support for land grant colleges throughout the U.S., the extension service became part of nearly all agricultural departments. By the end of the first quarter of the 20th century, it was not uncommon for new assistant professors to have all or part of their appointment dedicated to extension duties. Throughout most of the first half of the 20th century, crop yield trials, conservation studies, and the evaluation of new equipment became commonplace. At the end of this period, chemical applications emerged as the major choice for pest control on most crops. At the same time, agricultural companies began funding their own and university research, further expanding learning in agriculture.

The use of radio and television for transmitting agricultural information became widespread by the 1950s. Most of the programming on these media was during the early morning hours so that farmers could receive timely information before going to the field. By the second half of the 20th century, extension professors became extension specialists with a limited focus on one or two crops but a broader range of expertise. They became adept at new technologies, such as modeling on mainframe computers to support production decision making, and setting up sophisticated environmental monitoring equipment in crop canopies. New learning, such as integrated pest management (IPM), was implemented to improve the timing of chemical sprays and reduce their number in order to save farmers money and limit their environmental impact.

The advent of the desktop computer, communication modems, and cell phones in the last three decades of the 20th century personalized the technology for both private and extension personnel. These computer and communication technologies coupled with the Internet in the 1990s initiated a second information revolution. The printed page slowly gave way to the electronic page and the circulation of information in society reached levels unachievable with hard copy. As access to the Internet became faster and cheaper, computers became mobile, and cell phones became smart, a deluge of data and other information from many sources became available for everyone in society. This deluge became known as “big” data.

Dealing With ‘Big’ Data

With big data becoming a reality, the next challenge was doing something with it. It became clear that big data would require “big” learning. That is, like learning to read, individuals would have to learn new skills on mining data to reveal the knowledge embedded in it. Armed with this knowledge, individuals would have the opportunity to do things in ways that are innovative and efficient. In the case of precision agriculture, the mining of big data could support more precise variable-rate applications both in time and space. Similarly, a systematic investigation of big data may allow for better production plans by being aware of the synchrony of crop and pest stages during certain periods of a growing season. Lastly, big data may provide evidence to support agricultural practices arrived at intuitively.

In the coming years, big learning will have a number of old and new tools to assist in the perusal of big data. Artificial intelligence, neural networks, simulation training, pattern recognition software, and deep learning algorithms are just a few examples that come to mind. Furthermore, big learning may eventually be assisted by intelligent machines in the field that do real-time analysis as a necessary precursor for identifying more favorable management choices.

PrecisionAg magazine and PrecisionAg.com focus on new technologies for precision agriculture. Some of these technologies will require learning. In the case of new technologies that generate big data, big learning may be necessary.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Precision Ag & Big Data Learning

Data Management Stories
Data ManagementAgritechnica 2017: Executives Discuss Europe Ag Tech Adoption
December 6, 2017
While North American growers slog through yet another season of depressed farm incomes and commodity markets, across the pond it’s Read More
Bitcoin-for-Agriculture-Source-TheJavaCoincom
Data ManagementWill Bitcoin Work in Agriculture?
December 5, 2017
If you checked the Internet lately, you’ve probably seen the words, Bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and blockchain. I won’t describe them in Read More
Harvested-Corn-Field-Clouds
Data ManagementWeather Services Advance Precision Agriculture
December 4, 2017
Some estimates suggest over half of growers’ activities are impacted by weather conditions, from field workability to fertility management to harvest Read More
Longford-Silt-Foam-map
Data ManagementUnderstanding Precision Farming and Soil Morphology
December 4, 2017
The USDA Soil Conservation Service, now Natural Resources Conservation Service, has been charged with creating the country’s soil survey. This Read More
Trending Articles
Harvested-Corn-Field-Clouds
Data ManagementWeather Services Advance Precision Agriculture
December 4, 2017
Some estimates suggest over half of growers’ activities are impacted by weather conditions, from field workability to fertility management to harvest Read More
Wheat-an-oats-Daniel-X-ONeil
Data ManagementWill Open-Source Finally Unlock Ag Technology’s Potential?
November 28, 2017
To Aaron Ault’s eyes, ag technology right now is something like a walled garden — not unlike the Microsoft of Read More
Africa/Middle EastPERSPECTIVE: Is Bayer’s Highly Anticipated xarvio App the Next Uber for Ag?
November 22, 2017
As many of our CropLife IRON readers might know, every summer at MAGIE we award the most popular product featured Read More
Used Combine
Service ProvidersFinding New Precision Ag Opportunities in Older Equipment
November 15, 2017
Whether to buy new or used equipment has been and continues to be an important topic for growers. When it Read More
Blue River Tech See and Spray prototype in CA
Business ManagementIs the Agtech Startup Boom Over?
November 13, 2017
In the past few months there has been a flurry of acquisitions of agtech startups by major players in the Read More
Spray Drift
Business ManagementProtecting Your Business with Ag Data: What Dicamba Can Teach Us (Guest Column)
November 9, 2017
All over the country, in ag communities large and small, farmers are reporting crop damage, neighbors are fighting, lawsuits and Read More
Latest News
Claas RTK Field base
Industry NewsCLAAS Taps Syncron for Cloud-Based Spare Parts Manageme…
December 11, 2017
Syncron, a provider of cloud-based after-sales service solutions, today announced CLAAS, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, has selected Syncron Inventory – Retail Read More
Farmer and computer
Service ProvidersPrecision Agriculture Writers Wanted To Join Our Team i…
December 10, 2017
About The Opportunity: PrecisionAg.com is looking for people to join our team in 2018 and submit original content to our Read More
american-robotics-Scout-Drone
DronesAmerican Robotics Unveils Fully Autonomous Drone System…
December 7, 2017
American Robotics, an industrial drone developer specializing in agricultural automation, has unveiled its flagship product Scout. It is a self-charging, Read More
Industry NewsJohn Deere Upgrades Generation 4 Display Capabilities
December 6, 2017
John Deere has introduced its latest advanced guidance and machine data sharing technology with the addition of three new AutoTrac Read More
Grower-Field-iPad-Connectivity-Photo-Credit-VLab
Business ManagementOpinion: Agtech Boom Is Yet To Come
December 6, 2017
Many agronomists, farmers, and VC groups monitoring the agtech world are proclaiming the startup boom is over. Investments are down, Read More
Data ManagementAgritechnica 2017: Executives Discuss Europe Ag Tech Ad…
December 6, 2017
While North American growers slog through yet another season of depressed farm incomes and commodity markets, across the pond it’s Read More
Bitcoin-for-Agriculture-Source-TheJavaCoincom
Data ManagementWill Bitcoin Work in Agriculture?
December 5, 2017
If you checked the Internet lately, you’ve probably seen the words, Bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and blockchain. I won’t describe them in Read More
Vineyard weeding Robot-Naio-Technologies
Robotics/Labor SaversRobots Are Coming for Your Crop Protection (and Other I…
December 5, 2017
The market for agricultural robotics market is small but burgeoning, and their impact is likely to be quite a bit Read More
John-Deere-Connect-Mobile
Service Providers10 New Mobile Apps for Precision Agriculture
December 5, 2017
Ag professionals continue to reap the rewards of new smartphone apps. And perhaps no segment of farming is benefitting more Read More
On-Farm-Trials-Brazil
AmericasOn-Farm Trials in Brazil: The Way to Improve Agronomic …
December 4, 2017
The idea of using on-farm trials to gather data about the performance of any crop input has been in place Read More
Harvested-Corn-Field-Clouds
Data ManagementWeather Services Advance Precision Agriculture
December 4, 2017
Some estimates suggest over half of growers’ activities are impacted by weather conditions, from field workability to fertility management to harvest Read More
Longford-Silt-Foam-map
Data ManagementUnderstanding Precision Farming and Soil Morphology
December 4, 2017
The USDA Soil Conservation Service, now Natural Resources Conservation Service, has been charged with creating the country’s soil survey. This Read More
Spensa platform
Industry NewsSpensa Adds TerrAvion Aerial Imagery
December 4, 2017
Spensa Technologies announces today its partnership with TerrAvion, a California-based start-up that provides aerial imagery for agriculture. As customers of Spensa Read More
Industry NewsCase IH Announces Updated AFS Data Transfer Capabilitie…
December 4, 2017
Case IH has announced seamless data transfer capabilities between its Advanced Farming Systems (AFS) Connect farm management system and six Read More
Data ManagementCropLife: FBN CEO Appears at ARA 2017 Conference (Recap…
December 2, 2017
Right on the heels of news it has raised $110 million in a Series D funding round, Farmer’s Business Network Read More
Farmers Business Network, FBN Procurement
Data ManagementFBN Raises Record $110 Million Series D Venture Capital…
December 1, 2017
Farmers Business Network announced a $110 million Series D funding round, led by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Read More
Wheat-an-oats-Daniel-X-ONeil
Data ManagementWill Open-Source Finally Unlock Ag Technology’s Potenti…
November 28, 2017
To Aaron Ault’s eyes, ag technology right now is something like a walled garden — not unlike the Microsoft of Read More
Monash-University
Australia/New ZealandNew Ag-Tech Facility in Melbourne to Explore Use of AI,…
November 27, 2017
Monash University is establishing an ag-tech facility in Melbourne’s southeast with the vision to innovate new smart farming techniques including Read More