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 to Links 29/11/2017: Lakka 2.1, Huge Apple Flaw | Techrights Cancel 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
Google-Earth-Map-featured-image
Data ManagementRainfall Revisited: Accurate Observations and Beyond
September 18, 2018
As a provider of weather analysis and forecast services to the agricultural industry, one of the most common questions I Read More
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementThe Power of Predictive Analytics in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Years ago if we would have been told computers, data, and technology would be scattered around every farm there may Read More
AmericasOn The Scene: 2018 Farm Progress Show Wrap Up
September 5, 2018
Former Monsanto President (now Bayer CropScience Chief Operating Office) Brett Begemann’s opening salvo during his first appearance at a Farm Read More
Trending Articles
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower-Retailer
Imagery/SensingAgtech: 10 Things I Hate About You!
September 4, 2018
Before you get bent out of shape from the title, remember if you’ve read my articles before you know I Read More
Kansas State University
Industry NewsKansas State University, Topcon Form Precision Ag Research Partnership
August 30, 2018
Kansas State University and Topcon Agriculture are collaborating to develop tools and systems to advance precision agriculture and support farmers. Read More
Blockchain building block graphic
Specialty CropsIs Blockchain the Future of Food Safety?
August 24, 2018
When the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) was standardized in 1982, permitting the worldwide proliferation of interconnected networks and eventually the Read More
WinField’s Joel Wipperfurth On Empowering Data-Driven Decisions
InfoAg ConferenceOne on One with Joel Wipperfurth, Winfield United
August 15, 2018
Winfield United's Joel Wipperfurth discusses ag technology trends and topics during last month’s InfoAg Conference. Read More
Geosys
Industry NewsUrtheCast to Acquire Geosys from Land O’Lakes in $20 Million Deal
August 15, 2018
UrtheCast Corp. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced they have entered a binding term sheet for the purchase of Geosys Read More
Latest News
Business ManagementIvy Tech, Farmers Partner to Help Precision Ag Educatio…
September 20, 2018
Harvest time has taken on a new meaning for some Wabash Valley farmers, and Bobbi Hunt-Kincaid hopes her family’s first Read More
Sensors
Sensors/IoTThe Answer to Agriculture’s Daunting Challenges – Soil …
September 20, 2018
According to the United Nations, 9.6 billion people will live on planet Earth by 2050. Feeding these mouths will require Read More
Google-Earth-Map-featured-image
Data ManagementRainfall Revisited: Accurate Observations and Beyond
September 18, 2018
As a provider of weather analysis and forecast services to the agricultural industry, one of the most common questions I Read More
PenelopeNagel
Business ManagementWhy Is Funding a Challenge for Women-Led Agtech Compani…
September 17, 2018
When it comes to women-led agtech companies the funding discussion never seems to cease. In June after the The New Read More
Mobile Phone in field
Decision Support SoftwareWhy Are 570 Million Farmers Not Yet Using Agricultural …
September 17, 2018
Until recently, using agricultural apps and software was a rare practice among growers. This is now changing. The mass adoption Read More
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsDeere-Granular Collaboration Produces New Profit Maps T…
September 14, 2018
The newest development from the ongoing John Deere-Granular product development and marketing collaboration is Profit Maps, now available to farmers Read More
Wingtra
DronesOpinion: Combining Two Pluses with the WingtraOne UAV
September 13, 2018
For the every-day consumer interested in UAVs, there is an ocean of products from which to choose. This includes the Read More
Farmer-tablet
AsiaShould Agri-Input Manufacturers Outsource E-Commerce to…
September 12, 2018
Editor’s note: Venky Ramachandran is a contributing writer for PrecisionAg.com’s sister site, AgriBusinessGlobal.com. This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Now, Read More
ICON-Link-Licensing_featured-image
Industry NewsValley Irrigation Adds Remote Irrigation Management Opt…
September 11, 2018
Valley Irrigation, an industry leader in smart irrigation solutions, has announced enhancements to its remote management technologies. Multi-Year Licensing In Read More
Reflex-Connect-Agri-Inject-featured-image
Variable Rate ApplicationVariable Rate Fertigation System Expands with Mobile Co…
September 10, 2018
Building on the success of its Reflex Variable Rate Fertigation system, Agri-Inject has taken fluid injection to the next level Read More
Industry NewsTeralytic Earns Ag Data Transparent Certification
September 10, 2018
Soil analytics company Teralytic has completed the Ag Data Transparent certification, affirming that their data use is private, secure, and Read More
Business ManagementTop 20 Two-Year Colleges for Precision Agriculture
September 10, 2018
Earlier this year, I compiled a list of the 25 best colleges for precision agriculture. It was quite the process. Read More
Industry NewsRaven, Topcon Announce Slingshot API Agreement
September 6, 2018
Raven Industries and Topcon Agriculture announced today a licensing agreement for Topcon Agriculture’s use of the Slingshot Application Programming Interface Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementThe Power of Predictive Analytics in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Years ago if we would have been told computers, data, and technology would be scattered around every farm there may Read More
DronessenseFly Launches eBee X Drone, Breaks Through 1,000 ac…
September 5, 2018
senseFly today reportedly sets a new standard in mapping tools with the launch of the eBee X. Launched with the Read More
AmericasOn The Scene: 2018 Farm Progress Show Wrap Up
September 5, 2018
Former Monsanto President (now Bayer CropScience Chief Operating Office) Brett Begemann’s opening salvo during his first appearance at a Farm Read More
EventsAg Experts Discuss Big Data Challenges in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Agricultural experts at a Houston conference praised the advancements in unmanned aerial vehicles, sensors, and data-collecting technology used in precision Read More