Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Agriculture Big Data Legal Issues and Protections: Part 2 - What is Agricultural Big Data?

Written by M. Sean High - Staff Attorney

The term agricultural Big Data generally refers to the collection, aggregation, and analysis of incredibly large amounts of agricultural information.  This available agricultural information is so vast that it is difficult to work with and therefore cannot be processed according to traditional methods.  As a result, agricultural Big Data requires advanced computer software and innovative analysis techniques.  The ultimate goal of this collection and analysis is to provide farmers with a tool to increase production through a precise and efficient use of resources.

The first step in the agricultural Big Data process is the collection of agricultural information from individual farms. 

Recent developments in farming practices have served to provide an incredible wealth of agricultural information.  Today, it is common practice for farmers to employ Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to guide their tractors and combines.  Farmers that utilize this technology simply sit in the equipment cabs and monitor the progress of the machinery from computer tablets.  As a result, many farmers have been freed form the tedious task of steering and are now able to plant significantly straighter rows.  

Significantly, the same machinery currently used to guide farm equipment also has the potential to collect soil and crop information.  These highly developed tractors and combines are able to display in real time, on the same computer tablets utilized for steering, detailed planting and harvesting information regarding  where every seed is placed and what the current yields are.  Importantly, this information can also be recorded and collected for later analysis and use.   

In addition to information collected from tractors and combines, information may also be gathered through the use of sensors placed in fields that measure the temperature and humidity of the soil and surrounding air.  Furthermore, crop maturity may be monitored from images acquired through the use of satellite imagery.

An area that offers significant potential for crop monitoring and information collection is through the use of drones.  Drones are flying devices that do not have an “onboard pilot, use global positioning satellites (GPS) for guidance, and establish a microwave (“wifi”) data link to a control station on the ground.” These unmanned aircrafts are able to effectively cover large areas and collect vast amounts of agricultural information through the use of mounted cameras (one of which usually has infrared detection).” Relatedly, as a result of the ever increasing use of drones, in December 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration established new regulations regarding drone registration. 

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