Forget Silicon Valley, for Farmer’s Business Network, the Real Proving Grounds for Machine Learning are Out in the Fields

AWS Startups Blog
By Michelle Kung
April 25, 2019

If you live at a dis­tance from farm coun­try, agri­cul­ture might seem like an unchang­ing indus­try, built around tra­di­tion­al meth­ods and rel­a­tive­ly low-tech tools. Even a Google Image search pri­mar­i­ly brings up pic­tures of trac­tors plow­ing through fields. How­ev­er, the eco­nom­ic risks of agri­cul­ture actu­al­ly force farm­ers to be ear­ly adopters of new tech­nol­o­gy. As a result, today’s farms can be just as high tech as any office you’ll find in Sil­i­con Valley—especially when it comes to data.

A farm today relies on a whole array of datasets, each more com­plex than the last: GPS data, satel­lite imagery, drone imagery, weath­er and cli­mate data, not to men­tion the data being pro­duced by a grow­ing vari­ety of ag-spe­cif­ic smart sen­sors that mon­i­tor every­thing from soil health to the rate of crop devel­op­ment. And that’s just the data on the exter­nal vari­ables. As the tech­nol­o­gy pow­er­ing plant genomics has become cheap­er and more pow­er­ful, farm­ers have access to a grow­ing body of data on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the seeds they plant.

There’s so much data, in fact, that to prop­er­ly crunch it, a com­pa­ny would need to deploy the most sophis­ti­cat­ed machine learn­ing mod­els just to keep up. And that’s exact­ly the job of Matt Meis­ner at Farm­ers Busi­ness Net­work. Found­ed by Agri­cul­tur­al entre­pre­neur Amol Desh­pande and Google vet­er­an Charles Baron in 2014, FBN is an online farmer-to-farmer net­work where farm­ers can anony­mous­ly pool their infor­ma­tion about all aspects of their farms—what they’re plant­i­ng, how they’re plant­i­ng it, genet­ics they’re using, fer­til­iz­ers they’re using, pes­ti­cides they’re using, rates and tim­ings of applications—to learn from each oth­er and pro­vide each oth­er with bet­ter knowl­edge when nego­ti­at­ing with out­side ven­dors includ­ing seed, chem­i­cal and grain buy­ing com­pa­nies.

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