Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Not So Traditional Approach to Farming

It is no secret that technology is becoming an increasingly important part of productivity in all industries, and the farming industry is no exception. Brian Marshall is a Missouri farmer that has taken full advantage of available technology by using it to collect and process big data from his farm. His tractors are equipped with GPS systems and computer monitors so that they can drive themselves, but this is hardly the greatest upside of adopting this technology. The real benefit of these self-driving tractors is that they can intelligently plant different types of seeds and use the right kinds of fertilizer while optimizing nitrogen and potassium levels in the soil. This technology is both decreasing inputs and increasing outputs. Additionally, the data collected by these tractors can help pinpoint diseases in the crops before they break out and spoil the harvest. However, this is most effectively done by larger data firms with data on many different farms in a region which presents a huge potential issue: who owns the data? This question has inhibited many farmers of adopting cloud-based data services more quickly because evidently this data is invaluable to farmers who know how to use it. Many farmers, including Marshall, chose to only share the data with local, trustworthy farms, and are hesitant to trust large corporations who can profit immensely off of this data. Even though these companies assure the farmers that they own the data, these companies produce reports and products that benefit the corporations, not the farmers. This leads into the first oversight of this article, how would these companies use the data to benefit so greatly? Additionally, it did not discuss what the farmers are doing to ensure that their data is safe so they could also benefit from what corporations could do with their data. It seems that if there is an agreement between these two entities, they would all benefit from the increased data analytics. Finally, the article mentioned that companies including John Deere are adopting new technology, but did not go into more specifics. An article on discusses this in more depth. is a portal that farmers can use to see relevant information including weather, financial reports, fleet management, and any external add-ons that they choose. There is also a “Mobile Farm Manager” that allows farmers to see historical data pertaining to their farms ( Overall, farmers such as Brian Marshall have seen the fruits of adopting technology in a seemingly traditional field, and the applications of this technology are only starting to be realized so it will be interesting to monitor how this technology expands in the future.



  1. After reading this post, I can see many advantages to having this type of technology on a farm. Having tractors that can drive themselves while also determining which seeds to plant where based on the soil sounds like an amazing innovation to the traditional farming system most farmers use. This reduces the amount of physical labor farmers have to put into producing crops, thus allowing them to spend more time raising cattle. As a result, this technology could not only increase our output of usable crops, but also our output of other farm products, such as milk, cheese, and meat. This may help decrease food prices, thus making fresh farm products more easily accessible to the poor. Despite all of these advantages, I do see a downside to having farming data accessible to corporations. The post says that the article does not mention what the corporations do with the data; however, I can predict that companies would use a farmer's data to possibly push them into an unfair contract. For example, if McDonalds sees that one farm great at producing potatoes in mass amounts, they may try to determine the price to produce each potato and negotiate a deal with the farmer that would just match the farmer's cost. This would reduce the farmer's profits to zero. Even though the article does not mention how a company benefits from having farm data, I can predict that this would be one way in which they do. Overall, I believe that farm data collection has many benefits; however, we must come up with better ways to keep the data secured.

  2. Big data is revolutionizing the world we live in today. Efficiency more crucial now than ever as technology is getting more advanced. After reading this article, applying big data to the farming industry is an amazing innovation. The farming industry as a whole has been declining in a time where food is becoming scarcer. As mike pointed out, the potential upside is enormous. With GPS trackers and onboard sensors, right from the drivers seat a farmer can “take an iPad from his tractor, which will tell him the exact point on the field where his planter missed a seed…“The accuracy on the equipment that we run now is amazing.” One screen monitors the planting. Another shows highly accurate maps that allow for precise adjustments as the seeds go into the ground. Still another screen monitors autosteer.” “This is some of what big-data analytics make possible on the modern farm: Sensors can tell how effective certain seed and types of fertilizer are in different sections of a farm. Software will instruct the farmer to plant one hybrid in one corner and a different seed in another for optimum yield. It can adjust nitrogen and potassium levels in the soil in different patches. And this information can be fed to companies like Monsanto to improve hybrids.” With this we can produce more crops, of better quality, more efficiently. But this is only the beginning. The more information we gather the better, and the more accurately we can predict. The sky is the limit with this new innovation, as it will only build on itself. As we continue to gather more information and technology continues to advance we can increase the predictive power and accuracy our processes even more.


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