NIFA Introduces New Vision for Data Science in Agriculture

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) convened a summit to identify the frontiers and future of data in agriculture and build on existing U.S. government-wide efforts and investments in big data.

In addition to the summit, NIFA is seeking input from the agricultural and broader data science communities through 5 p.m. EDT Oct. 31 via an online Ideas Engine.

The summit featured distinguished leaders in the fields of data science and agriculture and engaged a diverse array of stakeholders to identify new opportunities for data science in agriculture. The meeting was held in conjunction with the Midwest Big Data Hub All-Hands Meeting in Chicago, Ill.

At this summit, NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy announced a new initiative, Food and Agriculture Cyberinformatics and Tools (FACT), designed to develop data-driven solutions for addressing complex problems facing agriculture today. “Data, technology, and approaches that integrate individual and societal considerations are essential to meeting this challenge,” said Dr. Ramaswamy in his welcome address. “To achieve this, NIFA envisions a future for agriculture that is connected, data-driven, personalized, and sustainable.”

The FACT initiative recognizes that analyses of agricultural systems to identify novel solutions require multi-scale data, machine learning, data visualization, and predictive modeling. These analyses also require transdisciplinary teams to work across scientific, economic, environmental, industrial, and political spheres. To enable this iterative process, clear strategic investments need to integrate information technology, computer science, engineering, statistics, business, economics, and social sciences communities with traditional agricultural research, education, extension, and agricultural producers and allied food supply chain participants.

NIFA encourages its partners and stakeholders within these communities to use the Ideas Engine to identify opportunities for:

  • Data-driven advances in agriculture and the food production system;
  • Cross-sector advances in data applications;
  • Data-driven advances to address societal well-being and consumer demands;
  • Data management and application;
  • Developing a data literate workforce and end-user; and
  • Big data in communication, property rights, and communities

In the longer term, NIFA encourages communities to develop workshop proposals that address these topics in further detail to identify needs and develop strategic plans. These workshops can focus on needs for generating, managing, and integrating big data in a specific domain of the food and agricultural system. NIFA routinely considers workshop proposals in the Foundational Program of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

To enable broad participation in this important discussion, data summit presentations were streamed live and remain available for viewing. NIFA encourages the agricultural and data science communities to continue the conversation through @USDA_NIFA #NifaAgData.