By Christabel Arina and Sharon Atieno

Since the first agricultural revolution where man moved from hunting and gathering to farming, agriculture has undergone several transformations with the current one being big data. Data driven agriculture is of great benefit to not only farmers but also researchers and policy makers among others.

Big data in agriculture solves some of the biggest challenges that farmers face like unforeseen climate changes, lack of adequate mechanization and unavoidable inefficiency during planting and harvesting. It can also put an end to most of these problems by using all the data available in detecting and analyzing critical issues that helps farmers make more informed decisions. Such decisions could include deciding the most effective agronomic practices or the best seed variety and the market opportunities to chase for ensuring maximum productivity.

“Farmers across the globe should strive to employ techniques such as precision agriculture which reduces cost, increase yields and ensures sustainability,” said Ranveer Chandra, Principal Researcher at Microsoft during the Big Data in Agriculture 2018 Convention.

He further added that data driven agriculture was essential in this era as it helps predict what could happen in the future giving farmers easy time in decision making.

Big data analytics is an innovative solution that is sustainable and minimizes the environmental footprint of farming thereby introducing a promising result for precision agriculture, which is an approach to farm management that uses information technology to ensure that crops and soil receive exactly what they need for optimum health and productivity. The knowledge provided by data analytics allows farmers to start and harvest their crops at the most favorable time which maximizes crop yields and reduces stress which maybe as a result of farmers spending  a lot of their time worrying about the crop productivity.

Large volume of data “Big Data” has been used to give accurate crop production leading to increased produce. Through the use of sophisticated algorithms to analyze decades of weather and crop data, farmers can predict crop yield with accuracy before planting.

Precision agriculture enables tracking of various agricultural processes such as pest management, project placement and management of quality and fertility of soil. Searching for pests can be applied in field sections as well as the whole field. Determining the possible locations of infestations helps farmers have a clear idea of site specific treatment to prevent wastage of money. Different projects are always placed on sites which suites them allowing farmers to establish where individual projects are most appropriate. Choices regarding rates of fertilizer, the area for lime application, the location and method of applying manure may be based on the information about the level of yields and soil nutrients within a field.

An example of precision agriculture is FarmBeats by Microsoft. It is a tool that tracks soil pH, moisture and soil texture thus helps farmers to know the correct time to apply water, pesticides and other farm inputs.

According to the 2018 report on the state of food security and nutrition in the world by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States (FAO), hunger is on the rise with nearly 821 million people facing chronic food deprivation in 2017 from around 804 million in 2016 which is a clear indication that a lot needs to be done to improve the existing agricultural landscape. Therefore, through innovations such as FarmBeats, farms will become more productive and as a result curbing global food insecurity.