Why Does Open Ag Data Matter?

In Farming, International, USDA by Cindy

Representatives from eight nations just gathered in Washington DC to discuss how they can work together to share important agricultural data with the rest of the planet with the ultimate goal of increasing global food security. Overall, they agreed that they need to make government data sets such as research and crop production as accessible as possible.

data-2At the G8 Open Data for Agriculture conference, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack revealed how the U.S. data would be made available in a new virtual community for Food, Agriculture and Rural issue, located at www.data.gov.

“This new online community is a big step toward opening information for agriculture, making it public in useable formats,” said Vilsack. “This will increase the value of the investments U.S. taxpayers make in agricultural research, it will create a data ecosystem that will fuel economic growth, it will help drive that innovation to meet our global food challenge we all face.”

Other G8 countries represented at the conference are also making their ag data available in similar ways. USDA Chief Scientist Dr. Catherine Woteki says the idea is to share research and production information particularly with farmers in Africa to help them increase productivity. “Some of that is coming from our plant and animal research program, where we’re mapping the genomes of important crops and animal species for agriculture,” she said. “We’re also including all of our agricultural statistics that traditionally we have made available but now it’s going to be easier through this new community on data.gov.”

Paul Welbig of Raven Industries, who attended the G8 conference as an industry partner actively involved in data distribution platform development, says the ability to share information with farmers in less developed nations is easier than ever before. “Remarkably enough, although they may not have running water or electricity, a lot of these communities actually do have good wireless access and cell phones are a main means of communications” especially by SMS or text messaging. So, applications have been developed taking the ag data sets and communicating them by SMS platforms.

Why is this important? Welbig says one of the most significant developments in agricultural productivity in recent history was made possible by the sharing of open data. “And that was GPS,” he said. “The satellite signals that were once proprietary to the government. They made those signals available and now look at the precision ag industry as a result of what they can do with this open data.”