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Opening the DEFRA treasure trove

The release of data by DEFRA will create opportunities for new types of applications in agri-tech, says expert adviser

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3D visualisations of landscapes, real time data on water quality and levels, market data on stocks of cereals held on farms and usage of cereals by maltsters – these are just some of the diversity of data to be made available by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in June, creating potential for new business models. The implications for the agri-tech industry will be discussed at the upcoming Agri-Tech East Special Interest Group event “DEFRA Data – Opening Up the Treasure Trove” at Rothamsted Research on 9th March 2016.

DEFRA’s transition to becoming a department that is ‘open by default’ will unlock a treasure trove of data with agricultural potential. Ellen Broad, Expert Adviser to the Secretary of State and a speaker at the event, will explain what data sets will be available and how the agri-tech community can use them.

Ellen says: “Over the course of this next six months, DEFRA will be releasing more data to do with things like groundwater and waterways, erosion, animal movements and plants, all of which could have exciting potential. Because all of these datasets are openly licensed, they’re free for agricultural companies to access, use and share for their own purposes.”

Agriculture in other European countries are benefiting from open data. In the Netherlands, the Boer & Bunder project has aggregated information about cropping, soil types, and crop cover (using NDVI*) to individual fields units using geo-positioned land parcel data. The portal uses historic data obtained from 1.9 million hectares of farmland over the last six years.

Robert Allen for webRobert Allen, Technical Manager at Greenvale AP and co-chair of Agri-Tech East’s Big Data SIG (pictured right), says knowing the history of the land is invaluable when assessing its potential.

He says: “The increase of contract farming and land rentals make understanding field history and rotation increasingly challenging, as fields could be cultivated by a different grower each year. Open access to rotational history data, like the Boer & Bunder platform, would allow land renters and owners to ensure good rotational practices are maintained.”

The aim of the Boer & Bunder project is to demonstrate how open data is a useful tool for growers, and to create a platform to generate ideas as to how data can be exploited, leading to new products and services.

Last year the Environment Agency released data collected by one of the most advanced visualising systems. The process LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) uses a laser to scan and map the landscape from above and is widely considered to be the best method for collecting very dense and accurate elevation data across the landscape.

LIDAR data has been used to help the work of the Environment Agency, creating flood models, assessing coastal change and analysing how land is used, and it is now available for wider use.

Ellen Broad continues: “Already we’ve seen the release of key datasets like the LIDAR 3D height data being picked up and used for a range of external purposes, by national parks, urban planners, agricultural data companies, even gamers! This shows the range of potential applications for this data. ”

Dr. Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, sees a positive change in the agri-tech industry with the release of DEFRA data. “Open data on this scale provides a platform for building new applications and the potential is very exciting.

“It will be great to see meeting attendees learn about how they can use the open data and share ideas on how to get the most out of it.”

Additional speakers include Jenni Tennison OBE, Technical Director and Deputy CEO of the Open Data Institute, and a number of exhibitors that are already using data to add value to agriculture.

For more information about “Big Data – Opening the DEFRA Treasure Trove” see the Agri-Tech East website www.agritech-east.co.uk.

 

Image courtesy of Environment Agency LIDAR Survey Open Data

*The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is an index of plant “greenness” or photosynthetic activity, and is one of the most commonly used vegetation indices and can indicate growing conditions.

©2015 Holdsworth Associates