The USDA-Microsoft Innovation Challenge asked participants to build online tools that strengthened food resiliency by leveraging the Department of Agriculture’s open data.
The Department of Agriculture on Jan. 27 announced the winners of its USDA-Microsoft Innovation Challenge to use USDA open data to build online tools that could help strengthen the country’s food resiliency in the face of a changing climate.
The challenge launched in July 2015 as part of the White House’s Climate Data Initiative. Working with more than 100 years of crop and climate data provided by the USDA through Microsoft Azure’s cloud environment, participants were asked to come up with new applications that farmers, ranchers, agriculture businesses, scientists and producers could use to improve food production.
“We are anxious and interested in making sure we use all of the tools available to inform producers as to how best to conduct their operations,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
The agricultural open data was collected from economic reports, farm production surveys, satellite imagery and remote sensors capable of detecting health of crops around the country.
Ultimately, the challenge resulted in more than 346 registrants and 33 submissions from around the world. A total of $63,000 in cash and prizes were awarded.
Farm Plenty received the grand prize of $25,000. The application allows farmers to see local crop trends, what other famers near them are planting, what crops are becoming popular and how prices have changed so they can plan for the future and make better crop decisions.
“It basically combines a series of datasets to give producers an easily accessible base of information about what is actually taking place in and around their farm,” Vilsack said. “That’s going to be particular helpful because it’s an easy and innovative way for folks to access that statistical information.”
The second prize went to Green Pastures, a dashboard interface with maps and charts that shows farmers production, food supply, economic demand, livestock, remote sensing and commodity data from sources such as the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the Agricultural Resource Management Survey and the Economic Research Service.
The applications that open dialogue between farmers and their consumers in nearby cities are of great interest to the USDA. “It connects people to their food supply,” Vilsack said. “It creates that communication that replicates the same thing that farmers markets do.”
The Farm Profit Calculator mobile phone application for farmers, which compares input costs to regional averages, and Croptrends, a tool for seeing spatial and temporal trends in crop production, were recognized for honorable mention.
The popular choice award went to the VAIS tool that uses data from the National Agriculture Statistics Service to visualize crowdsourced pricing data. The large organizational recognition award went to Farmed, a tool also using NASS data and local weather data to view crop conditions in the area.
Open data challenges help agencies expand research and data collection and build on their open data initiatives and partnerships. “This is just another way for us to encourage innovation in a thoughtful and creative way, to help producers around the country,” Vilsack said.