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Data From Every Plant in Every Field? You Have to be Kidding!

Data From Every Plant in Every Field? You Have to be Kidding!
The future is collecting sensory data from every plant, and it's closer than you think.

Bill Pickart, Carl Eiche and I were mesmerized as Jay Akridge explained one of the facets of Purdue University's Major Moves initiative for plant science. Pickart, Bringhurst, Eiche, Frankfort and myself were there to facilitate judging of Master Farmers. Afterwards, Akridge, Purdue University Dean of the College of Agriculture, explained what the College intends to do as part of the $20 million initiative set aside for this effort by the Purdue trustees in 2013.

All about data: Kip Tom, far right, believes the new world of agriculture will be all about 'Big Data.'

"We will be able to have sensors in every plant in every field, and the data will help scientists learn why plants do what they do," Akridge explains. The three of us were sure he was talking straight out of Buck Rogers, or Star Wars.

"No, guys, it's doable," he insisted. "Sensors inserted in plants will send information to a data command and collection center located at the farm. It will produce a tremendous amount of data."

Related: Open Ag Data Project Starts At Purdue, Makes National Waves

That's an understatement. There are 1,100 acres at the Purdue Agronomic Research Center. Associate Dean Karen Plaut later confirmed that this was the goal. She believes it's possible, and in a reasonably short time. The command center will actually contain labs and other areas where plant scientists can work to both analyze data and make improvements on plants.

We heard this only a week after the Indiana Livestock, Forage and Grain forum spent an entire morning devoted to 'Big Data.'

Related: Improved Agricultural Training Among Purdue's Top Priorities

Kip Tom, a panel member discussing the impacts, believes they will be huge for agriculture. He operates a large farm near Warsaw, and is involved in various ag organizations. Right now, he's part of a group attempting to use data to convince insurance companies that farmers who use certain practices are better risks. Their goal is to seek private insurance for crops instead of using government subsidized insurance.

Pickart, Eiche and I left the Dean with stars in our eyes. He just smiled. He believes he holds the trump card, and that sooner or later we'll find out his staff can do what he says they can do.

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