‘Data is holding back data-driven innovation,’ according to UK tech company Agrimetrics. Despite ‘more data than ever before’, finding and accessing the right data remains a challenge for food system innovators.
The company created Fields of the World (FOW), a new data set, with the aim of tackling this bottleneck for the agricultural sector. The aim, according to Chief Product Officer Matthew Smith, is to ‘accelerate new solutions for agriculture’.
“New solutions are needed urgently to address the many challenges facing agriculture,” he told a launch event today. “The data comes in and allows smarter decisions to be made… [using] smart tools.”
From stressors such as extreme weather events to the need to raise output or predict yields and prices, Smith noted “there is a combination of challenges and opportunities to address, fuelling the burgeoning ag-tech market”.
The development was supported by a grant from Microsoft’s AI for Earth programme. Barney Debnam, Microsoft’s industry lead for agriculture, told the event that the tech giant sees access to data as an important barrier to its use to boost agriculture.
“We’ve increasingly heard from our partners and customers… that they have a lack of access to data for AI-driven innovation in agriculture,” he noted.
“Agrimetrics and Microsoft saw a great opportunity to use the capabilities of the Agrimetrics Data Marketplace to make it easier for innovators to get the data they need by interoperating agricultural field data from different sources. Now, with a single query, they can pull weather, location, soil and satellite-derived property data directly into their workflows, saving time and enabling them to focus more on innovating their solutions,” Smith added.
A digital twin for 12 global crops
Fields of the World is an open access dataset consisting of field digital twins for 12 crops spanning 11 countries. FOW comprises more than 3,500 fields and over 50,000 hectares. Crops included in the project range from barley, bushbean and corn, to soy, sugar beat and rice.
It includes information on field boundaries, soil and weather data, and crop cover. This latter metric, delivered in real time using satellite data from the European Space Agency, can be used to predict yield size.
Alongside yield forecasting, crop anomaly detection and optimised water management are promising early use cases, Smith said.
“It is an impressive and useful combination of data,” he commented, explaining that the initiatives leverages crop-field location data from a range of different international organisations.
The free-to-use tool targets analysts, data scientists and developers. The dataset has broad applications, but will be of most value to users in the early stages of hypothesis testing and product development. Agrimetrics believes it will enable ag-innovators to ‘efficiently test their solutions without needing to invest significant time and budget’.
The data have been pre-sourced and pre-linked, enabling users to download and use right away.
“There is a huge untapped potential from applying AI to interoperable datasets,” Smith concluded.
“Innovators around the world are discovering how to derive new information from applying AI. For example, our own Data Science team has discovered new ways to forecast crop development and identify crop species from satellite data. This is what is needed to make remote monitoring and validation cost-effective and sustainable and this is being sought from businesses throughout the Agrifood system, especially those involved in ensuring continuity of food supply from the farm to the consumer, including financial organisations and retailers.”