Extracting business benefit from 'big data'


Data rich and information poor is an issue facing many growers and a compelling reason for Andrew Spinks, technical manager for Marsham-based B&C Farming Ltd, to get involved in Agri-Tech East’s Big Data Special Interest Group. The SIG aims to help the industry improve the management and interpretation of agri-data for commercial benefit and the launch event is hosted by Plextek on the 29th April.


Andrew Spinks says: “Key to making better decisions regarding seed potato quality is understanding what the data means and interpreting it effectively.

“I am particularly interested to hear more about how mapping and visualisation of data collected on farm can be improved. So often we see a jumble of numbers and it is not until it is placed into charts or on maps that we can begin to process it and see patterns and solutions. I would like to hear about innovative and profit driving uses of data collected on the farm.

Dr Graham Maile, Director of Strategic Consulting at Plextek, comments that agriculture is the next big challenge for technologists who need to better understand the needs of agri-food industry.

“Big Data has the potential to provide information that feeds back from the farm to the seed producers, fertiliser manufactures, those conducting plant trials and create a virtuous circle.

“Techniques for analysis are developing rapidly in business sectors such as pharma, and in the public sector where there are national imperatives to identify security threats and to improve healthcare. This SIG meeting will be an opportunity for users and technologist to understand the needs and the business cases for Big Data in agriculture that will lead to higher profits and lower costs.”

B&C Farming Ltd are award winning contract farmers, producers of high quality seed potatoes and top class English horseradish. They currently samples data on disease and virus levels. Andrew explains:

“At B&C Farming Ltd, we aim to exceed customer expectations by producing seed potatoes, which are of outstanding quality. To do this we sample and collate data on a range of factors.

“We use a spreadsheet on a data sharing portal, which is accessed from our website. This is shared across the company to all who require it, from the planter driver to the agronomist.

“This data is key to recognising seed potato stock qualities and handling them correctly.

“As a business we have recently had interesting discussions about the ownership of the data that we produce. This data when combined with that of other growers could be invaluable in helping create a bigger picture for the industry and could be powerful in the hands of companies further up the food chain.

“This is a particularly interesting aspect of big data and something which I think as an industry we need to have an answer to.”

Graham agrees this is a business opportunity. The Plextek Group has experience of gathering and analysing very large datasets to look for trends and anomalies and to use this to determine behaviour, these techniques could be equally applied to predicting demand in agri-food. He says:

“Plextek is actively trying to understand how its capabilities can help the agri-food community. Similarly, it is seeking opportunities in agri-tech for its market leading Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and for its data visualisation concepts.

“It will only be by contact and discussion between users and solution providers that collaborations be established that will make Big Data in agriculture become established as a powerful means of improving yields, quality and economics.

“It is also hoped that the discussion will lead to ways of repurposing agricultural data for entirely new services and ventures which will return value to farmers.”

The launch event is generously sponsored by Plextek and speakers include Robert Allen, Research Manager of Greenvale AP, and Carl Atkin, Director of consultancy business Terravost.

The Agri-Tech East Big Data SIG event "A Data Strategy for Agri-Business – Why Bother?" will be held on Wednesday 29 April at Plextek, Great Chesterford, CB10 1NY.


To read more information, click here.

Agri-TechE is a business focused membership organisation, supporting the growth of a world-leading network of innovative farmers, producers, scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs who share a vision of increasing the productivity, profitability and sustainability of agriculture.
Together we aim to help turn challenges into business opportunities and facilitate mutually beneficial collaboration.