Big data.  If you haven’t yet heard that term dropped in casual conversation with other farmers, you likely will — soon.

It is the term commonly used to describe the colossal amounts of information that are being generated throughout the world at breakneck speed and that are becoming so large and complex that processing, assessing and storing it often prove challenging.

How big is big data? If the data now stored across the planet were printed in books, these books would cover the entire surface of the United States some 52 layers deep, according to Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier, authors of a new book titled “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think.”

People and organizations across the planet are already harnessing this data to accomplish all sorts of things.

Three people who have witnessed the marriage of precision farming and big data within the last few years say farming is primed to benefit too.

John P. Fulton, an Auburn University professor of biosystems engineering who heads the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s crops team; Simerjeet Virk, a bioystems research engineer at Auburn University; and Andrew Williamson, a British cereal crops producer and Nuffield Farming Scholar, contend that data compiled in real time are already providing producers with a clearer, more comprehensive picture of all facets of farming, whether this happens to be soil science, seed rates, fertilizer optimization or weed and pest control. 

They predict that this growing body of data will ultimately free producers of much of the day-to-day guesswork associated with farming. 

The three have identified seven major lessons farmers should draw from this Big Data revolution.