|The USDA is powering up farms with IoT and other digital technologies / Photo Credit: Monopoly 919 (via Shutterstock)|
Farmers can use a variety of tools to improve yields, however, the USA’s Agriculture Department is powering up the farms of the future, according to Jory Heckman of radio station Federal News Network. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and its corporate partners Microsoft and Esri launched the Data Innovations project. It utilizes IoT and other technologies to give both farmers and researchers “near-real-time data on farm conditions.”
The USDA has deployed sensors, drones, and IoT-powered equipment at a 7,000-acre farm in Beltsville Area Research Center for Farmbeats, its public-private pilot program. The data gathered gets transferred to the cloud. An AI algorithm in the cloud provides data visualization to farmers and researchers. For USDA researchers, it could be a game-changer since they take down data points in “green books” or field books before uploading the data into a central database.
USDA ARS National Program Leader for Engineering Michael Buser stated, “We’re collecting a lot of data very manually and that’s killing how much research we can actually get done.” Likewise, research leader of the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Systems Lab Dan Roberts noted that when a scientist would retire and have another job, there are instances when data from costly experiments gets lost.
Research scientist with the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory Steven Mirsky said they are an agency focused on feeding the world. He added, “So we want to make our agricultural systems more productive, more profitable, and more sustainable.” According to Mirsky, monitoring insect levels, disease, water, weeds, and nutrient dynamics can provide farmers with data on their crops.
Collecting data from a single farm is useful, but IoT’s real value stems from building a “big-data picture of data from farms” all over the country. Chief scientist at Microsoft Azure Global Ranveer Chandra explained that they want to build a system for data collection across farms. To Mirsky, building a nationwide network with data on climate, soil, and other metrics, farmers would know what farming method works best and how.
By building data sets around the US, then the agencies involved in the project can develop decision tools to aid farmers in the decision-making process, he continued.