How BIG data is growing Ontario farms

For generations, farmers relied on many unpredictable data sources like the weather to determine optimal schedules for irrigation, planting, harvesting and crop maintenance, but agriculture is reaping the benefits of the digital age. Farmers today use GPS, genetics, plant science, advanced chemistry and other innovations. They are not just sitting on tractors anymore.

Dr. Mike Duncan is leading some of this exciting new research. As the Industrial Research Chair in Precision Agriculture and Environmental Technologies at Niagara College, he is focused on developing new ways to gather, process and disseminate the massive amounts of data gathered each day from Ontario farms, including the use of an experimental unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and field sensors. The challenge is in processing and translating the data into usable information.

The big idea at the heart of this research is the development of a system that doesn’t only process the large datasets collected by the various sensors, but also display this data on a three-dimensional map directly to the farmer in real time. Real time data is optimizing farm operations and having a positive environmental impact. ”Farmers have seen a 20-30% decrease in their inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, and sprays) while producing the same crop yield,” explains Duncan.

With the help of ORION’s high-speed, high bandwidth network and its connection to High Performance Computing (HPC) clusters, farmers can use this system to make ongoing adjustments to their irrigation schedules, pesticide use and field planning based on current data from their individual fields and crops.

Innovative ideas like Dr. Duncan’s shed light on the infinite possibilities that technology can have on the future of agriculture in Ontario, in Canada and on farms all over the world – behind and beyond the farm gate.