Will Open-Source Finally Unlock Ag Technology’s Potential?

Aaron Ault
Aaron Ault: “From the farmer’s perspective, data has been the future for 25 years. Without an open-source platform, the ag-data market is negligible.”

To Aaron Ault’s eyes, ag technology right now is something like a walled garden — not unlike the Microsoft of yesteryear, which attempted to gain dominion over the emerging online world by pushing exclusive use of its Windows OS and for-pay Internet Explorer browser.

“Microsoft was wrong for a long time,” says Ault, who is Senior Research Engineer for the Open Ag Technology and Systems (OATS) Group at Purdue University. “They wanted to own the internet. Now they’re a huge open-source shop” — joining what Ault calls the “business model of success” found today at Android, Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

Agricultural technology needs a similar open-source awakening, Ault says. The current state of ag data, he says frankly, “stinks.” Most farmers don’t share their data, and often justify their stance by noting there’s not much data out there anyway so what does it matter. And because the little data that is out there isn’t used much, a perception lingers that it doesn’t have to be particularly good data.

“From the farmer’s perspective, data has been the future for 25 years,” Ault says. “Without an open-source platform, the ag-data market is negligible, and we’ll never do better than a ‘Microsoft internet.’”

Ag technology clearly is due for a major intervention.

Purdue’s New Open Source Center

Purdue will do its part beginning January 2018 when it formally opens the Open Ag Technology and Systems Center (OATS), bolstered by a three-year grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture with additional funds provided by Purdue and partners ADM, AgGateway, WinField United, and Centricity.

The OATS Center, which has grown out of the founding OATS Group and a handful of initial projects, has a straightforward vision: to be the preeminent university source for innovation and education in agricultural information technologies. Specifically on its radar are the areas of sensing, control, logistics, analytics, and data management. This is all consistent with Purdue’s mission to be the “go-to for data science,” and for Indiana to become the “Silicon Valley for agriculture,” says Dr. Dennis Buckmaster, Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue.

The center will look to rally a wide community of farmers, professors, students, scientists, engineers, and industry partners. OATS supporters include something of a who’s-who of agriculture: The Climate Corporation and Monsanto, CNH Industrial, FarmLogs, the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), Spensa Technologies, Wilson Produce, and Valley Irrigation, among others. Amazon Web Services and Yelp also have been supporters.

Ault says the center has three essential goals: to enable (strategy, conversation, collaboration, a “vaccine” for “not invented here”); to provide (marketing, education, administration, research); and to build (projects, talent, community, demand).

A key task is to market the inherent value of data sharing and open-source development to growers and the wider ag community as it looks to gain a “huge win at the grassroots level,” says Ault, who is a farmer as well as an engineer.

This will not be without its challenges, acknowledges Dr. Jim Krogmeier, a member of the founding OATS Group and Professor and Associate Head of Computer and Electrical Engineering at Purdue. Prominent among these are that the full value of data is achieved only when it’s fused from multiple sources. Also, data and algorithms from public research is not easily shared; ag professionals on the whole lack sufficient software skills needed to thrive; and information technology across the food and agriculture sector lags the current state of the art.

What ag and ag technology needs, Krogmeier says, are open-source development, open standards, and market forces that shape the best possible products. “There doesn’t have to be only one way to do everything,” Krogmeier says.

A just-released open-source product suggests this is not just a pipe dream.

Blockchain for Produce?

OATS recently teamed up with PMA and the firm Centricity Global to develop Trellis, an open-source framework to electronically exchange produce safety-audit data.

Trellis answers a distinct pain point for the produce industry. Currently a grower receives an audit score for the safety of his or her produce — say, 96.6% — which then moves along with the produce through the distribution system from grower to packer to distributor to retailer, etc. One problem with the current system is that the data can be falsified — for instance, non-organic growers can maintain their produce is organic. Another problem is that the detailed data contained in the audit is rarely looked at, let alone analyzed, because it’s emailed through the chain in a clunky and hard-to-use PDF format.

“Food safety and other audits are supposed to identify and address risk, but in reality, mounds of PDF reports don’t lend themselves to easy analysis,” says Ed Treacy, PMA’s Vice President of Supply Chain Efficiencies. “Companies are having to manually enter data into their computer systems, or convert information from various sources and formats. In a perishables industry, time is a luxury we often don’t have — and that means we’re missing out.”

With Trellis, audit data and authorizing signatures at each step of the chain are encrypted so they can’t be tampered with, and pass quickly through the internet wholly intact but also extractable so that data can be parsed out for varying purposes and parties.

“Now we can focus on the value of the information and what to do with it, not how to get it where it’s supposed to go,” says Drew Zabrocki, CEO/CTO of Centricity Global.

“Bonus,” Ault says, “it’s open source, so there’s no cost to industry to use it or to contribute to it.”

In the end the central objective not only for Trellis and OATS but also for ag data and ag technology as a whole is to make data work for the grower rather than the other way around.

Right now growers equate data with hassle, Ault says, and rightly so — he runs down all the data points he as a farmer must personally touch every year. “This is not farming,” he says, “this is three beads of sweat on my forehead every season.” But open-source projects as promised and promoted by OATS offer near-term relief. “Everyone wants the hassle out of the way so we can start doing things with the data,” Ault says.

Leave a Reply

3 comments on “Will Open-Source Finally Unlock Ag Technology’s Potential?

  1. We look forward to seeing all the good things coming out of the new OATS center. I see this in comparison to the movement many years ago to get vendors to unlock all the binary formats of data and allow different companies to process instead of needing specific software from a vendor to process yellow, red, green or blue data types!

Data Management Stories
Farmer-Tablet
Data ManagementAgriculture’s Next Breakthrough: New Technologies Are Driving Efficiency, Data Insights
July 3, 2018
We live in an exciting time in agriculture. Not only is technology advancing rapidly, but the understanding and comprehension of Read More
Data ManagementThe Most Overlooked Asset in the Agtech Revolution
June 25, 2018
There is no doubt that advancements in genetics, precision agriculture, and innovative farming practices have all played an instrumental role Read More
Soil-Corn-plants-field
Data ManagementRemote Soil-Sensed Management Zones Help Increase Crop Input Efficiency
June 18, 2018
Accurate prescription maps are essential for effective variable rate technology (VRT) fertilizer application. Grid soil sampling is frequently used to Read More
Data ManagementChecking the Box: FBN Garners Ag Data Transparent Certification
May 30, 2018
Farmers Business Network (FBN) recently completed Ag Data Transparent (ADT) third-party certification, affirming that the FBN network’s data and analytics Read More
Trending Articles
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
EventsAssociation Seeks Definitive Definition of “Precision Agriculture” — What’s Your Vote?
July 2, 2018
More than two-dozen definitions of precision agriculture have been identified through the years — but which is the best and Read More
AmericasRaven Name to Grace New South Dakota State University Facility
June 27, 2018
According to a press release issued by the company, Raven Industries was recognized today in the naming of South Dakota Read More
dropcopter
DronesNew York Apple Orchard Claims World First in Pollination by Drone
June 18, 2018
Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard in LaFayette, NY, is the first orchard in the world to use drones to pollinate Read More
JDandPessl
Sensors/IoTJohn Deere, Pessl Instruments Team Up to Create Opportunities
June 18, 2018
John Deere is best known for its line of tractors, combines, sprayers, and implements. However, in an effort to help Read More
Matt-Waits-featured
Decision Support SoftwareSST’s Matt Waits: Innovative Data Solutions Key to Transforming Global Agriculture
May 31, 2018
Proagrica, part of RELX Group, earlier this year acquired U.S.-based precision agriculture solutions company, SST Software, in a move set Read More
Latest News
Industry NewsFarmobile Acquires Prime Meridian, Taps Cubbage as New …
July 13, 2018
Farmobile today announced an agreement to acquire the assets of Prime Meridian, a precision agriculture data management company based in Read More
group-photo
DronesPrecision Agriculture Takes Flight at North Carolina St…
July 13, 2018
Take a walk into the Suggs Laboratory for Precision Agriculture and Machine Systems and it’s hard not to be impressed, Read More
Skeketee-IC-Weeder
DronesAutomated Weeders Have Arrived in Vegetable Fields
July 12, 2018
The vegetable production areas of the Central Coast of California have lifted vegetable cultivation to a high art, writes Richard Read More
AgJunction, InfoAg 2014, Autosteer, GPS
Industry NewsAgJunction Settles with Raven in Patent Infringement Su…
July 12, 2018
AgJunction Inc., a leader in advanced guidance and autosteering, has settled a patent infringement lawsuit it filed against Raven Industries, Read More
Retailer-Grower-tablet
Business ManagementTaking Measure of the Precision Agriculture Program: 6 …
July 12, 2018
In the overall agriculture market, the rhetoric surrounding emerging technology over the past half-decade has been nothing short of breathless. Read More
raven-slingshot-job-generator-job-sync-1
Industry NewsNew Raven Slingshot Advancements Will Help Save Time, R…
July 11, 2018
Raven Industries, Inc. has announced several new services available on the Slingshot and Viper 4 platforms: Job Generator and Job Read More
Onsite-logo
Industry NewsAgIntegrated Acquires Exclusive Licence to Satshot’s Im…
July 11, 2018
AgIntegrated, Inc. (AGI), a leader in precision ag data integration and software development, and Satshot, a leader and pioneer in Read More
Australian Harvest
Australia/New ZealandAustralian Agritech Plants Blockchain for Efficiency
July 11, 2018
“Agritech” at one time would have meant new equipment such as tractors and combine harvesters, but today it refers to Read More
Tomato-crop-India
AsiaIndia: Using Artificial Intelligence for the Good of Fa…
July 11, 2018
After graduating from IIT-Madras, the first thing that Vivek Rajkumar did was to buy four acres near Thiruvananthapuram and start Read More
BrightFarms
Industry NewsForbes List of Innovative Ag-Tech Companies Includes Gr…
July 9, 2018
Forbes magazine recently posted a list of the 25 most innovative ag-tech startups in 2018, which includes a few companies Read More
AmericasNutrien Ag Solutions Brand, New Digital Platform Launch…
July 9, 2018
Nutrien (formerly Crop Production Services) has officially rebranded its retail business to Nutrien Ag Solutions, aligning the company’s retail operations Read More
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Pr…
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
TerrAvion
Industry NewsTerrAvion Integrates Aerial Imagery with John Deere Ope…
July 6, 2018
TerrAvion, Inc., a large volume provider of aerial imagery to agriculture, has announced an integration to allow TerrAvion’s aerial imagery Read More
Farmer-Tablet
Data ManagementAgriculture’s Next Breakthrough: New Technologies…
July 3, 2018
We live in an exciting time in agriculture. Not only is technology advancing rapidly, but the understanding and comprehension of Read More
Nebraska-Storm
Precision IrrigationNotes from the Field: A Look at Irrigation Management P…
July 2, 2018
One of the things I love most about my work is making periodic treks into the field – more often Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
EventsAssociation Seeks Definitive Definition of “Preci…
July 2, 2018
More than two-dozen definitions of precision agriculture have been identified through the years — but which is the best and Read More
Industry NewsAg Equipment Manufacturers: 3 Trends to Shape Farming G…
July 2, 2018
Bottom line instead of brand loyalty. Tractors and harvesters will look more like computers. Data will drive productivity. These are Read More
Ag Retailer and Growers with tablet WinField United
Service ProvidersPrecision Ag Technology: Act Like You’ve Been There Bef…
July 2, 2018
One of my dad’s favorite, albeit borrowed, sayings was, “Act like you’ve been there before.” He was mostly referring to Read More