Open Source Software Enables Digital Farming Solutions
Supporting decision-makers in the digital farming industry (e.g., farmers) is becoming more and more challenging due to the combined effects of a variety of factors such as population growth, climate change, pollution and decreased soil health, reduced profitability, overuse and overexploitation, and biodiversity reduction to name a few. On the other hand, technology is making huge advances with regards to data collection and sharing, tools, and technologies that can be used to improve the decision process in the field, with Open Source leading the way especially in the Big Data and Analytics domain.
We are witnessing what we might call an “explosion” in the amount, diversity and frequency of available imagery data. Access to freely and universally available remote sensing data from missions like Sentinel 1 and 2 from the European Space Agency or the Landsat 8 from NASA, provide us with captures of the earth at a resolution, frequency of update and depth of spectrum which enables scientists to perform analysis that were impossible before, either technically or financially or both. Simultaneously, small satellites are revolutionizing the earth observation scope and abilities; reducing launch costs by order of magnitudes and by trading resolution for frequency of update, hence lowering the barriers to enter the earth observation field, sparkling competition and innovation in a world that has been dominated for many years by a few gigantic companies.
Moving from outer space closer to the fields we farm, drones have gone from niche amateur tools to standard Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technical tools, which can provide quickly and effectively high-resolution aerial mappings, as well as other types of data by using sensor types like thermal and chemical sensors. Drones are rapidly filling gaps from the remote sensing world with ever more granular data at higher resolution, in real time.
Last but not least, today almost everyone on the earth can be a source of high precision data due to the various sensors that we routinely carry along with our smartphones, which can be easily expanded or complemented by the connecting external sensors (e.g., temperature, humidity, and wind sensors). This data, also known as crowdsourced data, provides direct field measurements and extremely valuable input for scientific modeling, which would otherwise be acquired through expensive field campaigns. Satellites, drones, and crowdsourced data are enabling scientists to deliver decision-support tools to the farmers.
Undoubtedly, we have never had access to so much data, most of it freely available, and technologies, most of it Open Source, as we have today. In addition, a significant enabler for digital farming solutions is represented by the existing cloud platforms as they make available virtually infinite scalable computing and storing resources accessible whenever and wherever we need them. Bayer, as leading innovation company and technology provider in the agricultural space, makes use of a wide variety of sources of data including earth observation as well as Drones’ imagery in its cloud-based decision support systems which build on top of various Open Source products, including GeoServer. At the heart of the use of Bayer of all this data is the compliance with the data privacy laws and, beyond that, Bayer Principles for the use of Agricultural Data in Digital Farming.
The factors above are lowering the barriers for digital solutions providers to take on the challenge and enter the digital farming market with innovative solutions that would turn data into actionable information to drive smarter decisions from the farmers in their day-to-day work.
There is still a long road to travel and each breakthrough will help improve the analysis capability. Some of the successes will come from diverse sources since all the enhancements performed by Bayer on the adopted Open Source products like GeoServer have been donated back to the respective code repositories and are available to the larger scientific community. The wonders of Open Source!