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 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.

Data Management Stories
Soil testing
Data ManagementOpinion: Soil Testing Needs Sensors To Get More Accurate
February 17, 2017
We are entering a very exciting time in agriculture. With so many great software platforms and data collection tools we Read More
Data ManagementJANZEN LAW BLOG: Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms at Center of America’s First Ag Data Case
February 14, 2017
A number of poultry growers have filed suit against Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms, and other poultry integrators alleging that growers’ Read More
Field Sky Beauty shot
Data ManagementField to Market Announces New Metrics Platform Integrations
February 9, 2017
Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture today announced a comprehensive integration between the sustainability metrics and algorithms of Read More
Data ManagementNew Partnership Between AgIntegrated, CDMS, SeediQ Will Create Single Source Reference Data API
January 18, 2017
AgIntegrated, Inc. (AGI), CDMS, Inc. and SeediQ announce a partnership to develop, promote, and sell a single-source crop input reference Read More
Trending Articles
Connected Farm Scout Trimble Agriculture - featured image
Decision Support Software17 Field Scouting Apps For Precision Agriculture
February 6, 2017
There are dozens of easy-to-use mobile apps that are ideal for every day field scouting tasks. From record keeping and Read More
John Deere Dealership
Business ManagementAg Retailer, Equipment Dealer Improve Service By Working Together
January 27, 2017
Some believe that in many aspects of life, timing is everything. Among those believers, please count Randy Bartholomew, Integrated Solutions Read More
Innovation SeriesPrecision To Lead Agriculture In 2017?
January 25, 2017
Another new year is upon us! And I’m certain I speak for many in the agricultural world when I say Read More
Terry Griffin
Business ManagementUsing High Tech To Make Farm Decisions
January 17, 2017
Raj Khosla, professor of precision agriculture at Colorado State University, challenged farmers to think about how far the technology of Read More featured image
ProfessionalsWelcome to the Newly Enhanced
December 29, 2016
Talk a quick look around our website and we hope you’ll notice it’s significantly different as we head into 2017 Read More
Ryan Raguse and Matthew Grassi
ProfessionalsIndustry Executives Talk New PrecisionAg Professional Brand
December 19, 2016
EFC Systems President and CEO Ernie Chappell Myriad Mobile Cofounder and Chairman Ryan Raguse Read More
Latest News
Professionals5 Compelling Reasons To Join The PrecisionAg Profession…
March 1, 2017
Many ag professionals are actively using sites such as Twitter and Facebook to promote their businesses. But perhaps no other Read More
Trimble Connected Farm Dashboard ipad and desktop
Decision Support SoftwareWhat’s The Deal With Dashboards? — A Seinfeldian Look A…
March 1, 2017
First off, if you read that title in the voice of Jerry Seinfeld, I have your attention, and you also Read More
GuidanceTopcon Debuts SI-21 Lightbar for X-Family of Displays
February 28, 2017
Topcon Agriculture announces the release of the SI-21 Lightbar, designed as a cost-effective, user-friendly product to complement manual guidance, providing Read More
Imagery/SensingAgrible Launches Pocket Drone Control App for Crop Copt…
February 28, 2017
Agrible has a new tool to help the farming community by giving users the power of aerial insights. Pocket Drone Read More
GuidanceTopcon Launching New X35 In-Cab Display Console
February 27, 2017
Topcon Agriculture introduces the new X35 — the next generation in the X-Family of touchscreen displays with advanced functionality. Designed Read More
Brazilian Agriculture
Ag Tech GlobalInside The Life Of A Precision Ag Consultant In Brazil
February 27, 2017
Editor’s note: Maurício Nicocelli Netto is a Precision Ag Consultant in Brazil. While he has witnessed a lot of growth in Read More
Professor Simon Blackmore
Ag Tech GlobalUK Professor: Name Change Needed For ‘Precision A…
February 24, 2017
‘Accurate farming’ would be more apt than ‘precision agriculture’ to describe this agricultural practice, says professor Simon Blackmore of Harper Read More
EventsInnovation Series 2017 Quick Thoughts: Gaining Ground
February 23, 2017
If you’ve been following past coverage of our PrecisionAg® Media Innovation Series events, this column is going to sound a Read More
UNL Researchers
ProfessionalsPrecision Agriculture Makes Farming More Sustainable, P…
February 23, 2017
Farmers have numerous sources of technology and data available to use in their operations, but many producers struggle with what Read More
Ag Tech GlobalSciFi in Ag: What do North Dakota, Peru, and Mars Have …
February 23, 2017
In early 2016, I was lucky enough to hike the Salkantay Mountain range in Peru. It’s about a 50 mile Read More
Sentera drone
DronesPrecision Ag Professionals Will Find Advice, Applicatio…
February 22, 2017
The upcoming ASCEND Conference & Expo will deliver practical information about using drones to improve processes in precision agriculture. ASCEND Read More
Case IH - AFS AccuStar and UAV Offering - Magnum MX210 AccuStar Receiver
DronesCase IH Adds New GPS Solution, UAV Package To AFS Offer…
February 21, 2017
Driven by the growing demand for efficient data management, the latest Advanced Farming Systems (AFS) solutions from Case IH help Read More
Mobile Phone in field
Systems ManagementBayer Enters Farm Recommendations Arena With Yara Colla…
February 20, 2017
Crop protection and ag biotech giant Bayer and fertilizer producer Yara International ASA have entered into a software collaboration and Read More
Hort Smart Vineyards Set to Revolutioniz…
February 17, 2017
Phil Asmundson is by no means a veteran viticulturist, but a half-dozen years ago, after watching his wife and business Read More
Soil testing
Data ManagementOpinion: Soil Testing Needs Sensors To Get More Accurat…
February 17, 2017
We are entering a very exciting time in agriculture. With so many great software platforms and data collection tools we Read More
Australian Harvest
Decision Support SoftwareGarden City Co-op Added as MZB Regional Mapping Center;…
February 17, 2017
Garden City Co-op (GCC), through a retailer agreement, has been using MZB Technologies as their precision ag platform for a Read More
DronesLand O’Lakes Drone Challenge Crowdsourcing Compet…
February 17, 2017
Land O’Lakes, Inc. is calling on innovators from the tech industry to enter the Land O’Lakes Prize: Drone Challenge, a Read More
DronesDrone Startup Hits VC Jackpot: Skyward Acquired by Veri…
February 16, 2017
Building on its strategy to drive innovation and adoption for IoT services in high-growth markets, Verizon today announced that it Read More