Feel overwhelmed by data? If so, you’re more than likely not alone. For farmers and Canada’s rural community in general, data overload can have a direct impact on the adoption of more efficient agriculture techniques – and our understanding of how practical improvements can be made on-farm.
Indeed, one of the major barriers to using precise agronomic data, for instance, is not whether that data is available, but whether it’s practically accessible. For this reason, members of Canada’s agricultural technology community are pushing for more universal, user-friendly data access.
The highly segmented nature of data collection has been cited as a major barrier to producer use. Government and academic institutions, agencies, businesses, and a truly diverse array of on-farm tools and technologies are continually collecting an ever-expanding body of data – but those bodies have few practical ways of sharing information between them.
If a farmer wants information to help control a soybean pest, for example, they might have to seek out a handful of people and organisations to find what they need, and sift through a mountain of redundant, less-important information in the process. As the convenience of accessibility suffers, so too does the practicality of finding and using data.
This reality has prompted calls for a data unification of sorts. In the province of Ontario, pilot projects designed to link outlying data from different sectors is currently underway. Focusing on farmers, advisors, associations, government bodies and researchers in the dairy, poultry, and grain sector, members of the agricultural technology community are documenting what data is currently available, what potentially useful data is not, and whether the missing data exists in other sectors.
The hope is that all agricultural stakeholders can make contributions to more practical, data-driven solutions for agriculture as a whole. This, in fact, extends beyond day-to-day farm management to wider issues of trade and food safety.
Could a central, highly interconnected national (or even global) farm data network support governments developing trade policy? Help farmers from British Columbia to Denmark cope with agronomic issues and disease pressures? Improve the public perception of sustainability and how farmers produce safe food?
Lofty as these ideas are, they are shared by more than just local Ontario groups; this pilot project has already received recognition from a European-based project focused on increasing data flow and accessibility through different parts of the food and agriculture sector.
Agricultural technology may be developing at an exponential rate, but that means little if industry stakeholders are unable to utilise developments that already exist. Arguably, both the European and Canadian efforts to streamline data accessibility point to the need for the infrastructure of digitisation to keep pace with technological innovation.
Now, if only Canada’s rural communities had access to reliable and affordable internet …