Data

How USDA crowdsourced agricultural data

Shutterstock. Copyright: auremar

Farmers want useful data, and the Agriculture Department has plenty, but unlocking the utility of that information isn't easy. So a contest born of a USDA-Microsoft partnership offered competitors access to a century of public crop and climate data, collected from surveys, satellite imagery and more and hosted on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform.

USDA announced the winners of its USDA-Microsoft Innovation Challenge on Jan. 27. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed to FCW that the project was vital since, with an ever-growing American population to feed, U.S. farmers need all the data-driven help they can get.

"We are anxious to see an increased utilization [of agricultural data]," Vilsack said.

The grand prize and award for best visualization went to "FarmPlenty Local Crop Trends," a dashboard that gives farmers a close look at crop prices and the most prevalent produce in the areas around their farms.

Developer George Lee took home the $25,000 prize.

"Green Pastures," a dashboard presenting fertility, rainfall, market and other data, earned second prize, while "What's Local?," a tool aimed at showing urban Americans the agriculture produced near their cities, came in third.

All told, the program saw, "33 pretty good submissions," Vilsack said, and paid out $63,000 in prize money. The contest's winners came from around the globe: Lee is based in San Francisco, while others hailed from Brooklyn; Nashville; Mumbai, India; and Lincoln, Neb.

That diversity speaks to the global nature of the food challenge, Vilsack said.

USDA has long promoted world-spanning initiatives to link data and farmers, the secretary noted, from the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition project to the U.N.'s Climate-Smart Agriculture push.

"Publicly funded [data] should be available to anyone and everyone who wants to use it," he said.

Contests like the USDA-Microsoft joint help put governments' data into the hands of farmers who need them. The hope is that farmers turn around and make data-driven decisions to create a resilient, sustainable food supply.

Vilsack wouldn't commit to future work with the contest winners, but said their projects are just a sign of good things to come.

President Obama's 2017 budget request will include $700 million for agricultural research, Vilsack said.

That money will help fuel the creative unlocking of agricultural data which, as the USDA-Microsoft winners' projects have done, should help existing farmers and give the next generation of farmers a solid foundation as well.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

Featured

  • Defense
    Ryan D. McCarthy being sworn in as Army Secretary Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo credit: Sgt. Dana Clarke/U.S. Army)

    Army wants to spend nearly $1B on cloud, data by 2025

    Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said lack of funding or a potential delay in the JEDI cloud bid "strikes to the heart of our concern."

  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

Stay Connected

FCW INSIDER

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.