'Big Data' important to agriculture

Collecting, analyzing and interpreting increasingly complex and large amounts of data has become an everyday occurrence in today's world. The massive datasets being generated are commonly called Big Data.

To manage big data, build partnerships among private and public institutions and use data to improve the quality of life, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a coordinated initiative last November. The initiative set up four regional hubs throughout the United States. Iowa State University is a co-leader of the Midwest Big Data Hub grant, which includes 11 states and five universities.

Joe Colletti, senior associate dean in the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said the focus of the NSF initiative is to build a community of sharing.
"This is about building community and how you get a set of projects and people together to enable the pipeline and enable the use or reuse of data in ways that address global issues," Colletti said.

A meeting in May at the university attracted more than 100 researchers and representatives from public and private organizations to share ideas about the collection, use and sharing of agricultural data.

Sarah Nusser, Iowa State vice president for research, said the initiative is a paradigm shift that will help researchers share data, collaborate and address issues.

"Because agriculture has a history of adapting to emerging technologies, we are in a great position to develop new approaches that integrate existing data and information from new sensors to better balance production and sustainability," Nusser said. "Iowa State's researchers are leading the way by partnering with producers, commodity groups, industry, government and foundations to advance data driven discovery for agricultural innovation."

Sally Rockey, executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, said the newly formed foundation is partnering with private and public institutions to provide opportunities for collaboration in the digital agriculture area. The foundation's mission is to elevate the visibility of food and agriculture research in the scientific area.

The big data hubs are meant to stimulate regional and grassroots partnerships focused on digital data. Melissa Cragin, executive director of the Midwest Big Data Hub, is based out of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Cragin said the four hubs are funded to do community development through public and private partnerships.

"Essentially we bring together academics, industry, government and non-governmental organizations to work together using data and leverage data to address societal issues and drive economic development," Cragin said.

Video recordings from the digital agriculture two-day workshop are available at

https://vimeo.com/channels/1074934. Information about the Midwest Big Data Hub can be found at

http://midwestbigdatahub.org/.
 
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