Making 'Big Data' small and meaningful for agri-businesses


Agriculture is one of the most data-rich industries and being able to act effectively on timely information can make a significant impact on productivity. The aim of Agri-Tech East’s ‘Big Data’ Special Interest Group is to help the industry improve the management and interpretation of agri-data for commercial benefit and its launch event is on April 29th at the headquarters of Plextek.


I see the SIG as an opportunity for growers and producers to develop confidence in how to better utilise their data and for data service providers to understand where they can deliver maximum benefit to their users.
- Robert Allen

Robert Allen of Greenvale AP, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of fresh potatoes, is co-chair of the Big Data SIG, and says that the core challenge is making ‘big data’ small and meaningful. He says: “The starting point is a clear and defined strategy of why and how they use data; this is essential if maximum commercial benefit is to be extracted.

“For example, understanding the impact of a new variety or piece of bio-technology requires the collection and interpretation of relevant data. Likewise, incremental improvements in commercial production can only be quantified by meaningful data collection, management and interpretation. Under-investment in data technology will inherently limit the impact of initiatives striving to improve agriculture.

“My talk will introduce what I believe are the key factors that need to be considered when designing and implementing a data strategy for an agricultural business.

“Data service providers produce solutions for elements of the production process but not its entirety. I see the SIG as an opportunity for growers and producers to develop confidence in how to better utilise their data and for data service providers to understand where they can deliver maximum benefit to their users.”

Robert gives the example of the potato sector where data on crop agronomy and meteorology is required for yield forecasting.

“In the potato sector, the commercial yield of a crop is determined by the gross yield, tuber size distribution and crop quality. In-season yield forecasting models provide valuable insight into final yields which can then be used for adjusting procurement and factory operational plans.

“However, accumulating the required data across a large portfolio of geographically distributed crops is challenging. Development of tools such as NIAB-CUF’s CanopyCheck are streamlining the data collection process and allow effective information to be created, but much more work is needed in this area.”

Another speaker at the SIG, Carl Atkin, Director of consultancy business Terravost, agrees; one of his main clients farms about 300,000 ha of land across four oblasts (regions) in Russia.

“Initially the business had operational dis-economies of scale, with poor collation and utilisation of operational and management data. Within the last year, we’ve created a centralised control, monitoring and logistics team and we now use operational data daily to drive decision making, both from an operational and a security perspective.

“The benefits of this approach include shortened seeding windows, reduced need for third party harvesting and improved grain elevator turnover. In addition it has reduced logistics, distances and costs.

“We utilise scouting and remote sensing systems to assist with agronomic decision making and yield forecasting, but this is still at an early stage and I think the algorithms are not as robust as they could be.

“We’re now building a bespoke system to integrate operational and financial data.”

Carl will be discussing his experiences at the SIG and Robert believes sharing these insights will be invaluable to others faced with similar challenges.  

Robert also views the SIG as an opportunity for those actively using agricultural data to meet and share ideas: “On a personal level I extensively use open source technology and would be very interested in developing a user community where ideas, applications and skills in this area can be shared.”

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

Further information is available here.


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.