5 Ways Agriculture Could Use Open Data to Change the World

Agriculture is intrinsically connected to many of the world’s most pressing social issues, from climate change and low-income food stamp programs, to poverty and sustainability more broadly. According to the Harvard Business Review, one tool above others can allow us to make a real difference. “If we’re going to scale any of our efforts to solve social problems, we’ve got to make much better use of the fastest scaling tool humans have ever built: Open Data.”  

Proving the Benefits of Protected Cultivation

Agriculture is an increasingly difficult industry for farmers, especially those living in developing countries. Lack of water, arid land and weather concerns like Monsoon season are just a few of the problems that have forced many farmers out of business over the years. Protected Cultivation allows farmers to take advantage of a controlled micro-climate, isolation against diseases, and a year-round opportunity to grow crops and vegetables.

Open Data on the topic has proven that the average yield for farmers using Protected Cultivation technology can be as much as 10 times larger than Open Cultivation. Further data would enable communities to improve on the existing model, identifying problem areas like wild animals, quality of the materials used and yield across different types of vegetation.  

Predictive Farming

The process of getting food onto the plates of billions of people has never been less of a guessing game. Big Data has made all the difference, allowing farmers to predict the yield of a crop, which seeds will flower and which will fail, and on a more granular level, how to accurately choose when to plant and when to harvest to see the best results. Technology that collects data can be installed even in developing countries, such as mobile weather stations that collect information on rainfall or sunlight. This data is already being used to an incredible effect. Back in 2014, rice farmers in Colombia were told to delay planting their crops for two whole seasons because of inclement weather conditions. As a result, 170 farmers saved over $3.6 million in losses. 

Battling Climate Change

Lessening the effect that farming has on the world around us has never been more important, with climate change nipping at the heels of our environmental efforts. The UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published data showing that after energy use, agriculture is the largest contributor to climate change. This becomes a vicious circle, as just 2 degrees of global warming could shrink corn yields by as much as 15%.

Without this information, it’s difficult to know where to place technology advancements and the latest AI and IoT to support farmers where they need it the most, to simultaneously lessen their carbon footprint and also manage the effects of existing global warming. Big Data and analytics have brought these important social issues into the public eye, putting facts in front of fear mongering for the first time. 

Improving Farming with Precision Agriculture

Analyzing plant data could be the key to world hunger, as scientists work out how to plant seeds that yield stronger, larger and more hardy crops. Precision agriculture allows this process to be automated, giving the latest technology such as drone automation an important role in farming, which may one day lead to ‘farmer-less farms’ altogether. At the moment, drones are used to plant accurately, alert farmers to anomalies, and update data regularly in a precise way that humans cannot achieve. 
The shareability of this data is essential for us to see the benefits where they are needed the most, in countries where the latest technology is out of reach and the poverty levels are at their highest. 

A Call to Action for Open Data

For data to continue to provide benefits and tackle these social issues head on, it’s imperative that we get a single source for open data that can be easily discovered, accessed, compared and reused, using valuable techniques like enrichment of metadata and discovery into the files themselves, not merely publisher classifications. The future is open, and we’re just getting started. 


About the Author: Assaf Katan is the CEO & Co-Founder of Apertio, the first Open Data deep search engine. Assaf is an accomplished executive with 20 years of experience.