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2015 Autumn - From Little Data Big Data Grow

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FPJ1201B - Sonka, S (2015), Big Data: From Hype to Agricultural Tool

Sonka, S (215), Big Data: From Hype to Agricultural Tool, Farm Policy Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1, Autumn Quarter, pp. 1-9, Surry Hills, Australia

ISSN 1449–2210 (Print)

ISSN 1449–8812 (Web) 

Big data appears to be at the apex of its ‘hype cycle’, meaning that the media’s breathless and uncritical enthusiasm for this term may be starting to diminish. When technology innovations reach this point, they enter a phase where investment is driven more by serious, critical analysis than by the desire to ‘have the newest thing’. This paper explores the dynamics underlying big data’s business potential as it relates to the food and agricultural sector.
First, let’s recognise that adoption of information and communication technology (ICT) has been a nearly constant feature in agriculture, business and society for the last three decades. So what is different about big data?
•    Big data is much more a capability than a single entity. It is the capability to extract information and generate insights where previously it was economically, if not technically, impossible to do so.
•    Big data has three key dimensions – volume, velocity, and variety.
•    The introduction of low-cost, novel sensing technologies (eg drones, satellites, cell phones) is a major means by which data (never before available because of the high cost of data capture) now can be gathered.
•    Analytics, the ability to make sense of massive amounts of highly variable types of data, is a key source of the power of big data.
So, how might big data capabilities enter the food and agricultural sector?
•    Tracking consumers, both in terms of shopping and purchasing behaviours as well as perceptions extracted from social media, has been an active area of big data application. These capabilities also will be employed to optimise supply chains, extending to agricultural production.
•    Numerous research and development (R&D) initiatives are underway with a focus on greatly increasing the productivity of agricultural production. Today these R&D efforts tend to be concentrated on the underlying biology of crop and livestock production. What is different about these efforts is that they are occurring on the farm, not in the lab or the experimental plot.
As these linkages are formed, key strategic questions will need to be addressed, such as:
•    What value, if any, is created by employing big data tools to optimise performance among and between these many firms?
•    If value is created, what organisational structure in agriculture would facilitate effective initiation and operation of such systems? 

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