Questions for Big Data Answers

Cindy Zimmerman

infoag-14-sonkaAttendance at the InfoAg 2014 Conference was up by more than 25 percent from last year with more than 1,400 visiting the three day show, and many were still on hand for the final general session presented by Steve Sonka, Emeritus Chaired Professor with the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who urges those in precision agriculture to be ready for changes to come.

“Surprise is inevitable; being unprepared isn’t,” he said. Being prepared means realizing that as with any new technology, the advent of precision agriculture technology means a lot of new tools, a lot of new technology and a lot of startups in the ag-info world. But there will be a drop off in the number of companies offering quality ag information systems. “It’s a normal evolutionary process. Every innovation has to go through a shakeout period [which will include some consolidation in the industry]. It’s how we make the sector more efficient.”

Sonka says there’s a lot of data out there for ag operations, even to the point where you could call it an information bubble. During his presentation, he talked about how we need to learn from previous applications of information technology, from ag and non-ag sources, to inform our thinking relative to the potential impacts of Big Data, including answers to key questions regarding technology, firm decision making, and supply chain organization.

Sonka was one of the people who was at the first InfoAg conference back in 1995, when attendees were amazed just to be able to check market prices on the internet. He says the evolution of any technology usually takes a few decades, and considering how far and how fast ag information has come along, the amazing amount of information available to today’s producers is just astounding.

“[In the 20 years that agriculture information has developed], that’s very short. Precision ag has moved pretty rapidly relative to innovations in general.”

Listen to my interview with Steve Sonka here: Interview with Steve Sonka, University of Illinois


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