Water for Food

New agricultural ‘big data’ project brings together students, researchers and agricultural producers

December 12, 2016


Team project manager Austin Wendt and Ashlyn Lee, team squad leader and development manager, discuss with fellow students during team time on Nov. 8 at the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management what they learned, what they lacked and what they liked while working on a WFI project to help make field-level data more useful to agricultural producers, researchers, and resource managers.

By Kate Gibson, program coordinator

Researchers from the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Agronomy and Horticulture have teamed up with students from UNL’s Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management on a new project to help make field-level data more useful to agricultural producers, researchers and resource managers.

In the past five years, “big data,” the use of aggregated data systems to analyze trends, reached the world of agriculture, and an enormous amount of farm data now exist. But collecting and analyzing the data to help make better decisions is no easy task. WFI Faculty Fellow Patricio Grassini knows this well. He’s gathered a wealth of farm data spanning multiple years and encompassing thousands of fields in Nebraska and the surrounding Great Plains states. These data already represent one of the largest field-scale farm databases in the world. Grassini and WFI Director of Policy, Nick Brozović, recognized the immense potential of these data and envisioned ways to make the data more widely available.

Now, a team of six students participating in the Raikes School’s rigorous Design Studio program are working to develop a new farm data website that will contain these and other data. The WFI-funded website will provide anonymous data summaries and analysis to agricultural producers, researchers and resource management agencies in formats that meet their needs. For example, the team envisions that the data will be used to benchmark farmers’ production, improve crop management decisions, enhance technical innovations and guide agronomic research.

The Design Studio team began working on the project in September and will continue working 15 hours a week through April 2017 to develop and implement the final product. Their packed schedule includes weekly meetings with WFI and monthly product update releases. Ashlyn Lee, team squad leader and development manager, oversees all technical aspects of the project, from making technology decisions to deploying code.

“With this project, we’re bringing big data and analytics to agriculture,” said Lee. “The goal is to help researchers and producers identify resource management trends, provide education on efficient resource use and help guide policy and crop production decisions.”

As part of the development process, the students have gathered feedback from university researchers, agricultural producers, and representatives from Natural Resources Districts and state-level management groups to ensure the data website will be user-friendly and provide valuable information. While the students brought impressive technical skills to the project, user interviews have allowed them to learn about the less-familiar world of agriculture – something they’ve eagerly embraced. Team product manager, Austin Wendt, was surprised to learn how busy agricultural producers are, especially during harvest season.

“We had a call scheduled with a producer for 7:00 p.m. one evening; when he answered, he said he had plenty of time to talk but asked if he could call back in 5 minutes,” said Wendt. “When our phone rang again, we were confused by the noise in the background. He apologized, saying, ‘I figured that if I was going to be sitting talking to you for a while, I might as well hop in the combine while we talk!’”

Website development is on schedule to be finished by summer 2017 and once completed, project leaders hope the database will become the largest, and most-used, repository and source of producer field data in the world.

Design studio student team members include Josh George, Ashlyn Lee, David Li, Aaron Post, Phuc Trinh and Austin Wendt. WFI and UNL team members include Nick Brozović, Patricio Grassini, Joel Brehm, Fatima Amor Tenorio, Jeremy Suing, Ian Cottingham and Kate Gibson.

Team project manager Austin Wendt and Ashlyn Lee, team squad leader and development manager, work with fellow students during team time on Nov. 8 at the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management.

Team project manager Austin Wendt and Ashlyn Lee, team squad leader and development manager, work with fellow students during team time on Nov. 8 at the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management.


 
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