Will big data kill the small farm or save it? An article in the New York Times profiles a farmer in Indiana, who is loaded with the latest information technology-rich agricultural gear. His sensors and large-scale data analysis, he told me, increases his return on investment by 50 percent, compared with conventional farming.
This farmer also owns or leases 18,000 acres, which is a lot, and thinks smaller farmers with just a couple thousand acres will have a hard time keeping up with technological change. That is because things like sensor-equipped combines, computer analysis and planting equipment that works at a variable rate to maximize productivity all cost a lot of money.
Help for the little guy may be at hand, however, because of the same influences that are reshaping big business: The so-called consumerization of IT is moving once-expensive software onto smartphones that can connect to cheaper cloud systems. The ever-shrinking cost of semiconductors is making once exotic tech a commonplace on much farm equipment. And, in the prairie tradition of agricultural cooperatives, smaller farmers may pool resources to get a better result. … (Read more)