“There is no data more valuable than the insights a farmer has gained over 10, 20 or 30 years of experience,” he says. “The promise of big data will come from overlaying it with all the insights a farmer has gained through years of experience. 

Virk shares this view. In the end, farmers will always know more about their farming operations’ strengths and weaknesses than any software or machine, he says.

“The integrated farming picture that emerges from all these big data-related advances will ensure decision-making is easier, but in the final analysis the farmer’s intuition will still be the critical factor in all of this, he says.

5. Big data requires a mindset change.

Farmers are creatures of habit, Williamson says.  Most think that time spent in the field is more valuable than time invested peering into a computer screen.

Experience has taught him that time invested analyzing his farm data is just as important as time spent in the field.  Indeed, producers who opt to manage their own data rather than pay an analyst to do it should develop a new daily routine, he says.

“If you’re going to do it yourself, you had better be comfortable with spending more time on the computer,” he says.

According to Fulton, the big data revolution is also challenging Cooperative Extension to undertake its own transformation by developing an understanding of row-crop farming as a system of interrelated parts.

Much of the ACES crop team’s in-service training now emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach, underscoring how different disciplines — agronomy, economics, plant pathology and entomology, for example —comprise a comprehensive farming picture.

Fulton also believes Extension educators will serve a valuable role in the future showing producers how to make optimal use of their data stream by organizing it into a more seamless picture of their farming operation.

6. Big Data will play a critical role in feeding the world.

Big data is gaining traction at an especially critical time in history as farmers gear up to feed an estimated 9 billion people by midcentury.

“This will require farmers to secure higher levels of production efficiency, and this can only be attained with more mechanization and other forms of technological adoption,” Fulton says.

Big data will fill much of this void by providing producers with a clearer understanding of how to match varieties to soil and climatic conditions along with strategies for reducing fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide applications, all with the aim of securing the highest levels of farming efficiency, he says.

7. Like it or not, big data is the new reality in farming.

While farmers will have some choices about how to participate in the coming big data revolution, they cannot afford the luxury of not participating, Fulton says.

 “We’re already seeing new partnerships growing out of these changes at a steadily accelerating pace, and to be successful, farmers will need to be engaged with these emerging partnerships,” he says. “But it’s important that they ask the right questions before joining these partnerships and only partner with people and organizations that they trust.”

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