29 Aug 2014

“Date-a” or “Dart-a”? Whichever - there’s a lot of it about!

The next seismic shift in how computing and the internet will affect our lives is upon us - the "big data" revolution. With the advent of mobile communication, the internet and scientific technology there are now massive amounts of data being produced every second around the world. The very act of you clicking through to read this blog post has generated several pieces of data about you and how you behave.  So should we be worried, or is there real benefit in all this data?

Big data is essentially about finding better ways of storing and analysing large amounts of data. Pulling separate or incomplete data sets together and undertaking sophisticated analysis enables patterns and trends to be identified that can create services and products with greater value. Some examples of big data in action in our everyday lives are maps on our phones showing the latest traffic flow information, roadworks and accident reports, or the personalised recommendations we get for products when we are shopping online.

Big data is big in agriculture. In 2013 Monsanto spent $US930 million buying The Climate Corporation.  This business is a great example of big data application in agriculture - essentially they pulled together masses of historical data related to weather then built a sophisticated model that takes current weather conditions and using all that past data, can generated a very specific forecast.  Here in New Zealand, pause and think about how much data is being generated and collected everyday on your farm.   About your cows, your milking plant, your soils, your machinery, your crops, your inputs, your finances ….. the list goes on!  The very fact all this data is being generated presents lots of exciting opportunities for the future of farming.  Regen is firmly in this space. Although not in the same realm of the likes of Google and Amazon (not just yet!) we are taking data from multiple places, including your farm specific data, processing, managing and analysing it to power the ReGen Effluent and Nitrogen services.  Already Regen has processed the equivalent of over 830 years of soil water balances!

In New Zealand the government is recognising the value data can play in New Zealand’s future. Earlier this year the New Zealand Data Future Forum published a report ‘Harnessing the economic and social power of data' One of the findings was to encourage data to be treated as a strategic asset, creating value by tackling real problems via trusted sharing and use of data.

Knowing your data is secure and what it is being used for is a critical part of building trust in data sharing. Regen has been part of a cross-industry working group, headed by Dairy NZ, to create a farm data code of practice. The code of practice defines disclosures and behaviours required of organisations storing, handling or moving data on behalf of farmers within the NZ agricultural industry.

The benefits of big data are only beginning to be realised and with the right standards for data sharing and security, has the power to unlock key insights and increase the value of your products.


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