We are just past the half-way point for the Innovation Challenge jointly launched by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Microsoft Research around building applications to help create a sustainable, competitive, and healthy US food system.
With nearly 300 registered participants there will likely be strong competition for the $60,000 in prizes. Although such monies can be a good incentive for entrants to be creative, the broader goals of the Challenge are to help figure out how the US can keep food on our tables in a time of climate change and to make use of the increasing opportunities afforded by government release of data and the new possibilities created when that data is made easily accessible along with cloud computing resources and tools.
To help with the Challenge, Microsoft is hosting USDA data in the Farm Data Dashboard. The Dashboard provides a simple way for users to explore the content and size of the available datasets. In addition, the dashboard helps users understand how to access the data from applications or other computing services through a range of different protocols. Although these data were available from other USDA sites, it is our hope that the simplicity of the dashboard and the ease with which developers can create interfaces to the cloud-based data and apply high level services such as machine learning and Power BI will allow the creation of novel applications.
The USDA and Microsoft are excited that developers will be able to blend these USDA data with other government or private information sources such as historical or predicted local commodity market pricing to create applications that help many in our community. Examples could include farmers who need to determine optimal opportunity for growing a crop in high demand; meteorologists who need to accurately predict the weather to help insurers understand the likely risks associated with different crop types under potentially changing climate forecasts; and perhaps even evaluation of traffic data to help farmers and distributors orchestrate timely harvesting and delivery of foods. These applications are all part of helping ensure accurate and up-to-date information, coupled with the latest in modelling tools, can be used to aid resiliency in our food supply.
We are pleased to support this initiative and wanted to share some insights from Joyce Hunter, who is the Deputy Chief Information Officer for Policy and Planning for the US Department of Agriculture.
Why is USDA creating the Innovation Challenge?
The contest is designed to explore how climate change will impact the United States’ food system and achieve better food resiliency. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with Microsoft to launch an Innovation Challenge to address the future of food.
What kinds of data does USDA collect?
For more than 100 years, USDA has compiled data from economic reports and farm production surveys, and more recently from satellite imagery and remote sensors that can provide information on the health of crops around the country.
What sorts of outcomes do you hope to see?
Through this partnership with Microsoft, we are now putting that data into the hands of people who can help us derive new insights to address factors that threaten our ability to feed a growing global population. This offers very exciting possibilities, and we look forward to seeing the new tools that contest participants develop that make use of the USDA data and provide applicable insights to farmers, agriculture businesses, scientists or consumers.
How can people get involved in the Challenge?
The challenge offers $60,000 in prizes for applications. The top prize is $25,000. The deadline for entries is October 27th, 2015. Winners will be announced in December 2015. Sign up for the challenge at http://usdaapps.devpost.com/
Dr. Daron Green is Deputy Managing Director at Microsoft Research.