A Top Agriculture Commodity: Data

By David Steffes, Missouri SBDC Central Region Director

For decades, companies have been collecting data to improve their brand and connect better with consumers. Computers and the internet have blazed a trail for what is being called “the Digital Age” or “Information Age.”

Humanity’s ability to collect and store data continues to expand exponentially. The consumer’s desire and competitive advantage’s reliance on new information both advance this data growth. This has transformed data from a passive learning tool to an active currency and commodity.

The agriculture industry is very familiar with commodities. Raw agricultural products are harvested and sold to be processed into a value-added products, an end-consumer desire. With agricultural data, the roles are reversed.

Raw data is collected and analyzed into value-added information for a producer to use. The agriculture industry is already familiar with the importance of the commodity that is data. Futures, commodity prices, the U.S. Farm Report, yields and genetics have been shaping agriculture for decades — even centuries.

The digital age has created an urgency for producers to become more agile to consumer demand. Sustainability, changes in diet, medical research and population growth are a few of the millions of data points that consumers can learn with a quick tap on their phone screen. The information is at our fingertips. The data trend has required innovation and the creation of companies providing services that our grandparents never imagined.

Soil and acreage are finite, but the demand for agriculture products will continue to grow. Technology and innovation will facilitate our capability, but use of the data collected will nurture future tech and innovation. Because technology gets the spotlight (drones, AI/automated grain carts, vertical urban farms), here are some highlights of data collection and application in agriculture:

  • Soil monitoring: Probes and beacons can transmit data to information management systems. This provides real-time soil quality, moisture content and information that can determine the right time to plant, fertilize and harvest to ensure healthy soil and ultimately, sustainability.
  • Geospatial data: This technology goes beyond guiding an automated grain cart. Farmers can measure plant height, mass and count. They can identify and treat problem areas because of weeds or disease. Grazing livestock can be tracked, and flood prevention opportunities can even be identified based on a detailed analysis of the terrain.
  • Predictive genetic outcome modeling: Using data points within an algorithm or AI-driven process, a cattle farmer can see which animals have the best genetic traits and improve the quality of calves. Predictions can be made on how adjustments to seeds and soil will affect a crop’s yield. Past interactions could predict future improvements.

Data utilization is only a dot on the map to the future of agriculture. Given the importance of agriculture to Missouri, the U.S. and the rest of the world, the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is building partnerships in state and federal agencies. The SBDC is developing new curriculum and resources to support the today and tomorrow of agriculture. From producer to supply chain and value-added products, the SBDC supports the small businesses of Missouri Ag.

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