Big data challenge for food resilience

Big data challenge for food resilience

Earlier this year, Microsoft Research and the Department of Agriculture partnered to build application programming interfaces that let uses access from agricultural data in the Azure cloud that dates as far back as 1850. The Cropscape API provides direct access to raster images that help estimate what crop is on the ground in any given part of the country at the end of the growing season, and VegScape API  accesses an image dataset that tracks crop conditions on daily, weekly and biweekly timescales.

Now, with the release of additional datasets, the USDA and Microsoft have launched the Innovation Challenge for Food Resilience, a contest to explore the impact of climate change on the nation’s food system.

The USDA will make key datasets available on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform, which the agency said will allow complex models to be processed in a timely manner and enable results to be delivered to remote users on laptops, tablets and mobile devices.

Additionally, Microsoft has built a Farm Data Dashboard that provides a simple interface to the datasets on Azure. Users can select from over 31 million available records and either download them in bulk or modify the API to pull specific data. For the challenge, data from the USDA can also be combined with data from other government agencies such as NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the U.S. Geological Survey. Microsoft is also granting cloud-computing awards to aid universities, researchers and students who wish to access Azure to take part in the challenge. 

"Microsoft and the USDA…hope that the challenge will provide a great incentive for developers and researchers interested in data science to put together some great applications helping address the USA's food resiliency needs," said Daron Green, deputy managing director of Microsoft Research.

The challenge offers $60,000 in prizes, including a top prize of $25,000 for the best application making use of the USDA data to provide actionable insights to farmers, agriculture businesses, scientists or consumers. The deadline for entries is November 20, and winners will be picked in December.

About the Author

Derek Major is a former reporter for GCN.

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