It’s weird to say, but farming has always been among the most data-dependent fields in the world. Think back to the dawn of agriculture, in Mesopotamia or China or India. People had to understand when was the right time to plant and what plants would grow where. In Egypt, they took the annual flooding of the Nile and the rich soils it deposited, learning over time that it wasn’t a fluke. It was something that happened regularly, for reasons then-unknown, and even without knowing the reason, they could use that information to settle down and build societies that would dominate the ancient world and spread over millennia.
What Is The Farmers Business Network?
Farmers have always used that kind of data. They have to know what to plant, what seeds to use, what fertilizer to use, and how to rotate crops so that the land will be regenerated and they won’t destroy all the topsoil. This data is generated over years, decades, generations, even centuries. It’s ancient wisdom, but it’s also changing every year with new weather patterns and the development of new technology. It isn’t a stretch to say that farming will always be just about our most important field of work, no matter how prominent tech gets. So it is exciting that a San Carlos business, the Farmers Business Network, is helping to leverage mobile tech and the information revolution with the help of Google to give farmers another edge.
Farmers Business Network and the Streamlining of Data
Let’s get one thing straight: farmers do not currently lack for technology. What was the Old Farmers Almanac except for using book printing technology to collate information? Farmers have always embraced technology as a means of collecting data, but it got to be too much. Indeed, some think that farmers are suffering from an “information overload,” and have thought so for over a decade.
This is because they know what data they need to collect: soil information, what seeds are working, what fertilizer, etc. The problem is that there is so much data from so many sources that it becomes confusing. You don’t know what is signal and what it noise. Who knows if the good crops were because of a good seed or just lucky rain? Today, however, there is way more of this infomation to sift through.
That’s where the Farmers Business Network, which just received $15 million in funding from Google, comes in. They are essentially crowdsourcing farming in a manageable way by collecting and making sense of this information. Let’s take a look at how older methods worked and how newer methods of data collection make it easier.
Crowdsourcing Farming, Old and New
It’s not that farmers didn’t know how to crowdsource. After all, we can probably all picture a bunch of men and women at the local store, comparing fields and yields. It is condescending to think that this wasn’t scientific. It was – they were trying to figure out the best methods. The problem is that, as we talked about, there was no way to know if hyperlocal conditions played a role, or if what happened at one field was replicable elsewhere.
Farmers Business Network changes that. It takes all the data and aims to understand everything – soil acidity, relative moisture, history of the field – everything that you might need. The power of collecting all of this is that you can actually find out what works and what doesn’t, and, more importantly, you can understand why it did or didn’t work.
Farming and the Power of Information
Farming is incredibly difficult. You can do everything right and still fail, simply because of weather conditions. We take that for granted, forgetting that without farming, we’ll starve. It’s important to get it right and that makes it important to figure out how to use all this data.
This has applications for all of us, even outside of food, and it goes a long way toward understanding the involvement of Google. Farming is, as we said, among the most data-intensive fields in the world. Understanding it and the complicated, algorithmic interplay of overlapping information can teach us about complex systems in the natural world. The implications for climate science and other crucially-important ecological fields are huge. We can understand not just these natural fields, but how we affect them over years and centuries.
That’s the heart of the information age and our mobile tech, especially our wearable or biometric tech. It collects information about us, reams and reams of information. Thanks to our oldest profession, we may be learning how to understand it.