America’s Farmers Are Bogged Down by Data


A decade after data analytics promised to revolutionize agriculture, most farmers still aren’t using data tools or specialized software, and of those who do, many are swamped in a deluge of data. From a report: In 2013, seed and pesticide giant Monsanto acquired agriculture-data firm Climate Corporation for $1 billion, helping spur the industry’s mania for data-driven farming. The hope was that by outfitting farmers with software and tools capable of ingesting and analyzing troves of data on things from weather patterns to soil conditions, they could more efficiently use their land. Many are still waiting for the technology to pay off. In the U.S., less than half of farmers surveyed by consulting firm McKinsey are using farm management software, and 25% are using remote-sensing and precision agriculture hardware. That software is a foundational technology in enabling the autonomous machinery and AI-enabled equipment of the future, analysts say, and unless farmers start using it, some will be left behind in the next decade of farm innovation. At the moment, 3% of American farmers said they plan to adopt software or precision agriculture hardware over the next two years, according to McKinsey.

Certain tools can automatically gather data from internet-connected farm equipment, but others require farmers to manually enter the information. For a specific field, for instance, that could total over a dozen crop-protection products and multiple seeds. Even those who are using the tech say they can find it difficult to draw useful conclusions from it. “We’re collecting so much data that you’re almost paralyzed with having to analyze it all,” said David Emmert, a corn and soybean farmer in West Central Indiana who works about 4,300 acres. […] The first generation of digital farming tools also wasn’t easy for farmers to use. Software was slow, interfaces were complex and difficult to manage. “The industry does need to step up a little bit on continuing to improve the customer experience,” said David Fiocco, a McKinsey partner focused on agriculture. In recent years, big tech vendors like Microsoft, Amazon and Google have begun tailoring their cloud-computing, data and artificial-intelligence services to agriculture, bringing along expertise that could help address complications that have long plagued farm data management and analytics.


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