University of Illinois 5-Part Series To Explore Big Data In Agriculture

Big Data — the current buzzword of choice. Today it’s very easy to be overwhelmed by the hype promoting Big Data. Farm media, newspapers and general media, and conference speakers all extol the future transforming effects of Big Data, stressing that “Big Data will be essential to our future, whatever it is.” The goal of this article, and the series of five that follow, is to begin to unravel that “whatever it is” factor for agriculture.

We’ll definitely explore “whatever it is” from a managerial, not a computer science, perspective. Potential implications for agriculture will be the primary emphasis of the following set of articles:

Big Data: More Than a Lot of Numbers! This article emphasizes the role of analytics enabling the integration of various data types to generate insights. It stresses that the “Big” part of Big Data is necessary but it’s the “Data” part of Big Data that’s likely to affect management decisions.

Precision Ag: Not the Same as Big Data But…Today, it’s easy to be confused by the two concepts, Precision Ag and Big Data. In addition to briefly reviewing the impact of Precision Ag, this article stresses that Big Data is much more than Precision Ag. However, Precision Ag operations often will generate key elements of the data needed for Big Data applications.

Big Data in Farming: Why Matters! Big Data applications generally create predictions based on analysis of what has occurred. Uncertainty in farming, based in biology and weather, means that the science of agriculture (the Why) will need to be integrated within many of the sector’s Big Data applications.

Big Data: Alive and Growing in the Food Sector! Big Data already is being extensively employed at the genetics and consumer ends of the food and ag supply chain. This article will stress the potential for capabilities and knowledge generated at these levels to affect new opportunities within production agriculture.

A Big Data Revolution: What Would Drive It? Management within farming historically has been constrained by the fundamental reality that the cost of real-time measurement of farming operations exceeded the benefits from doing so. Sensing capabilities (from satellites, to drones, to small-scale weather monitors, to soil moisture and drainage metering) now being implemented will materially lessen that constraint. Doing so will create data streams (or is it floods?) by which Big Data applications can profoundly alter management on the farm.

A Big Data Revolution: Who Would Drive It? Over the last 30 years, novel applications of information technology have caused strategic change in many sectors of the economy. This article draws on those experiences to inform our thinking about the potential role of Big Data as a force for change in agriculture.

Big Data: More Than a Lot of Numbers!

Innovation has been critical to increased agricultural productivity and to support of an ever increasing global population. To be effective, however, each innovation had to be understood, adopted, and adapted by farmers and other managers. Although Big Data is relatively new, it is the focus of intense media speculation today. However, it is important to remember that Big Data won’t have much impact unless it too is understood, adopted and adapted by farmers and other managers. This article provides several perspectives to support that process.

Read the first entry in Steve Sonka and Yu-Tien Cheng’s series over at farmdocdaily.illinois.edu.

Academic Citation: Sonka, S., and Y.-T., Cheng. “Big Data: More Than a Lot of Numbers!” farmdoc daily (5):201, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, October 29, 2015.

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