Researchers see big data transforming agriculture ‘from the outside in’

Big data is reshaping farming “from the outside in,” DuPont Pioneer’s Kevin Hayes says, and data collected at all levels — from outer space down to ground level — is helping improve the agriculture industry.

Hayes, who spoke during the first MU DuPont Pioneer Symposium Feb. 1 in Columbia, is a team leader for genomics operations and protein structure analysis at DuPont Pioneer in Iowa. His presentation focused on the company’s use of big data in agriculture and the ways that it can help farmers.

Kevin Hayes | Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin

“Managing all of that data is one of my group’s main priorities,” Hayes said. “We’re leveraging all of the technologies that are out there.”

That starts on the “outside,” with satellites, Hayes said. Large and small satellites take regular snapshots of fields, providing consistent monitoring from space.

Moving closer to earth, UAVs, also known as drones, help collect farm data. The drones fly over fields to help measure things like plant height and field performance.

On the ground, rovers assist in the data-collection process. The vehicles roam across farmland to provide high-resolution snapshots of fields and crops.

“All of these things are part of the sophisticated package of imagery, from high to low, at different resolutions, that will enable growers to learn more and manage their field for more efficiency,” Hayes said.

Hayes was the first speaker to present at the symposium. The event is a new addition to the DuPont Plant Sciences Symposia Series, which brings students together with plant scientists from the public and private sector at universities across the world.

Tim Beissinger, an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri and research geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said he regularly sees the benefits of big data in agriculture.

“I spend my days looking at genetic data of maize plants or corn plants on a computer screen; that’s what I do,” Beissenger said. “So I can see the benefit of that directly, and it’s substantial.”

Beissinger said he’s pleased to see that techniques applied in other industries have found their way to agriculture.

“I think it’s exciting that this is the time that it’s coming to this part of the country as a technology we can really use here,” he said. “It’s not just something that exists for Google or Microsoft or data centers at Amazon, but it really matters to farmers.”

Hayes said using technology to compile farmers’ data on all levels will help to improve his industry.

“If we put them all together from the top down,” he said, “we are going to be able to do great things.”

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