I recently read an article in Fortune magazine that keeps creeping back into my thoughts. It was a short profile on a farming business in Illinois, and how they are using data science to improve their crop yields.
The article says, “ Jeff Hodel farms 6,000 acres of corn and soybeans near Roanoke, Ill. To feed a growing population — an estimated 9 billion worldwide by mid-century — he uses genetically modified seeds, producing higher yields. The same companies that make the seeds, Monsanto and DuPont, are building hardware and software that help farmers plant and fertilize their crops with surgical precision.”
You can read the rest of the article here: http://money.cnn.com/gallery/technology/2012/09/10/big-data.fortune/4.html
This is a clear example of how increased information is paving the path to abundance. While the verdict is still out for me on GMOs, it is hard to deny that data science can yield enormous benefits for agriculture. It is also likely that the gains we can get from engineering data can make organic food movements more competitive with the likes of Monsanto and DuPont. It is absolutely amazing how much value is being extracted from the land of this Illinois farm and others like it. Imagine if the land locked away by the federal government in the West were open to this kind of innovation.
The other interesting part of this article was how the insurance industry was using this data to create hyper-local, laser-targeted crop insurance policies. This could create an interesting case study towards the feasibility of federal government crop insurance programs. As agricultural data grows in exponential abundance, the actuarial ability to successfully insure these enterprises grows dramatically. As viable private alternatives grow in this space, it might be time for the federal government to retire from this space.
Most farmers would probably prefer this scenario over working with a byzantine federal agency:
“When erratic rain caused one farmer’s corn crop to fail, Climate Corp. automatically compensated him $45,000 for his losses. The farmer didn’t even need to file a claim.”
It is no surprise that this kind of innovation is being funded with Silicon Valley money. The data that Climate Corp. is engineering is mind-blowing:
- About 200TB of historical data stored in Amazon S3.
- Monthly predictive simulations and daily forecasts for each location it insures.
- Each simulation:
- Uses between 4,000 and 5,000 computing cores on Amazon Elastic MapReduce.
- Considers 10,000 scenarios for each of the next 730 days.
- Analyzes 5 trillion data points.
- Consumes 20TB of uncompressed data.
- Data volumes have grown about 15x since last year.
Climate Corp. is pioneering how you go from an already efficient agricultural industry to an exponential explosion in abundance. I will repeat what Peter Diamandis has said, “Small teams, driven by their passion with a clear focus can do extraordinary things. Things that only large corporations and governments could do in the past.”
The future is bright my friends. The possibilities are endless.