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2016 Commodity Classic: Using Data to Feed a Growing World Population

Nations, food production must double by 2050 to meet demand from the world’s growing population.

McClendon and Hackney don’t think we have that long.

“If in 2030 we are not on track to feed the world, there are going to be a lot of hungry people,” McClendon says. “Hungry people are angry people. That means we have 15 chances to make a meaningful increase in food production, 30 if we plant in both hemispheres.”

While better genetics and adopting more efficient practices are ways to increase production, big data can be the accelerator for all of it.

“In 2013, we had roughly 400 unique fields. For all practical purposes, that means we had 400 test plots,” he says. “In 2014, we had 152 million 1-square-meter test plots with the technology we implemented. That is the power to accelerate learning. That’s what will feed the world.”

He says one of the most powerful things data is enabling is an audit trail of where a crop was produced and everything that happened to it.

“Knowing all of the information about the genetics in a crop, chemicals and fertilizers that were applied, and the environmental impact of producing it on the land where it was grown will empower retailers to create consumer products that today cannot be created because no one can provide an audit trail for a load of grain or bale of cotton,” says McClendon.

By automating their data collection system, records of planting, tilling, spraying, and harvest are now totally untouched by human hands. 

“That means our records are auditable by a third party,” he says. “This is great because we get 1-square-meter costs as they actually happen. We can provide a trustworthy audit trail of what we did. It is fun to think about how this might change relationships between land, capital, and the businesses involved in farming.”

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