Big Data is Disrupting Food, Part 1

hypoallergenic-nutsPhoto by NPR

In an article by AgFunder News, Vonnie Estes describes how Big Data (BD) is a positive, disruptive force in agriculture.  As the population grows and natural resources such as water decreases, new solutions to feed the planet need to be planted and harvested. A lot of these solutions will be from humans acting on new knowledge gained from Big Data. Three areas where BD will be a driving factor of innovation I will discuss today include 1) Development of new food traits, 2) Precision Farming and 3) Food Tracking.

Traditionally, creating new crop varieties that were disease or drought resistant was expensive and could take 10 years or longer. With the explosion of BD in genomics, biologists can research and develop new plant prototypes in the lab rather than the fields. Access to more data in shared databases makes the time to field faster and cheaper. Crops such as high calcium carrots, antioxidant tomatoes, hypoallergenic nuts, water-conserving wheat and bacteria-resistant oranges are some examples of how genomics knowledge from big data are being implemented.

In addition to new food traits, Big Data helps drive farming practices in precision farming and food tracking to reduce food waste. Using GPS and sensor data allows producers to monitor field conditions, track yields, know when and what to plant, and know when to water their crops. This data helps increase productivity and profitability.  BD could be a game changer for farmers producing food and those of us that rely on farmers for food.

The old adage that ‘knowledge is power’ is just as true in the agriculture industry. By tracking food and using this data, foodborne illnesses and waste can be reduced. Big Data will impact the 76 million people each year that get a foodborne illness and the 10 million that are food insecure in the U.S. alone. Suffice it to say food waste and hunger are two topics that you know I’m very passionate about if you’ve been following my blog posts. Next week, I’ll delve into more analysis of foodborne illnesses.


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