Analytics in the field
Optimising crops by the numbers
Instinct, the Farmers' Almanac and a new tractor as the latest in high-tech: that's the traditional picture of farming. Now, commercial farming is projecting a whole new image, heading into the world of advanced analytics to organise the variables and make decisions based on realtime data from the markets and the fields.
Sun World International, a California agribusiness growing more than 60 varieties of produce, uses IBM analytics technology (US) to plan and optimise its food operations, from planting, watering and harvesting to storage, tracking and distribution. Increased profits and reduced fuel and water usage are only the beginning.
Grocery shopping in Norway probably hasn't changed much at all, but the families who buy steak, pork or lamb for their meals can shop with greater peace of mind. That's because they'll know that their dinner has been optimally handled, processed and transported. And shopkeepers can gain a better sense of their stock needs, providing fresher meat for their customers.
This level of traceability and food safety is made possible through collaboration between IBM and Matiq, the information technology subsidiary of Nortura, Norway's largest food supplier. The first-of-a-kind plan uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track and trace meat products from the farm through the supply chain and right onto the supermarket shelves.
More and more, consumers worldwide want to know more about the food they buy —how the animals were raised and what conditions they were kept in, from farm to dinner table. It's understandable, when there are 76 million cases of foodborne illnesses every year in the United States alone.
Rice is the main food staple of more than half the world's population. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 20% of the total food energy intake for every man, woman, and child in the world comes from rice. So what if food technology could make rice — a dietary staple for most of the world — a stronger crop that is more nutritious?
First, we have to study the structures of the proteins that make rice itself. The Computational Biology Research Group at the University of Washington has developed state of the art software that does just that. But with 30,000 to 60,000 different protein structures, a couple or even a dozen computers couldn't take on this task. That's why the researchers plugged into IBM's World Community Grid.
With the processing power of 167 teraflops, the World Community Grid can harness the donated and otherwise unused power from nearly one million individual PCs. Using the Grid, the project can be completed in less than two years — as opposed to over 200 years using more conventional computer systems.
Few things are as clear-cut as a chocolate bar. But there is a lot of science behind something so simple and sweet.
In the past several years, the cocoa industry has been hit with a series of destructive fungal diseases that have cost the world's growers an estimated US$700 million in losses every year. IBM Research, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Mars, Incorporated are teaming up and going straight to the source. Through their collaboration, they hope to sequence the genome that makes cocoa, the key ingredient of chocolate.
Researchers plan to use IBM's computational biology technology and expertise to develop a detailed genetic map, identifying the specific genetic traits that produce higher cocoa plant yields and resist drought or pests.
But like any sweet treat, the results of this research will be better when shared. Mars will make the genome information available for free through the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA), which supports agricultural innovation for both humanitarian and small-scale commercial purposes.