By Connor Lynch
GUELPH — Farmers can count on a “digital revolution” that will expand their ability to crunch more data and make better business decisions. The University of Guelph received its largest federal grant — $76 million — and will use it to expand big data, from precision inputs, to genetic sequencing, to creating food traceability and preventing food-borne ailments.
The money is earmarked for the university’s Food from Thought program. The program’s scientific director, Evan Fraser, says that farmers are only on the cusp of what can be done with big data.
“Where the tools of data-driven agriculture allow for much more precise, real-time applications of inputs, we can reduce input costs while we increase production.”
The program aims to do that in some specific ways:
Fraser says that the program is looking to build on what already exists in precision ag, broadening the kind of data that farmers can gather and improving the ability to process it.
For example, figuring out, based on genetic sequencing, the crop genetics that can take advantage of the micro-conditions of a field, and linking that data with a system that can process it.
Smart livestock management
The kinds of data that dairy farmers with robotic milkers are gathering are something that the University of Guelph envisions for every livestock industry.
“The move to robotic milkers has increased efficiency, and maintained high standards for animal health and welfare,” says Fraser.
Food safety and traceability
Program researchers will look into a number of factors around food safety and traceability, including a process called DNA barcoding, which Fraser speculates could be used to track why food-borne disease outbreaks happen when they do.
Fraser says that other tracers such as isotopes might make it possible to figure out where a food item came from. “We know Canadian food is among the safest and most sustainable in the world and with these technologies we can demonstrate it.”