The advent of precision agriculture technology and the Internet of Things has led to the collection of vast amounts of data.
Many different types of tools, equipment and devices gather data on everything from crop yields to how many steps an animal takes in a day. Much of that data, however, is under-utilized and is collected by varying systems that can’t communicate with each other.
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The potential this presents was behind the creation of Ontario Precision Agri-Food (OPAF), a partnership of agricultural organizations that is collaborating to build an open agri-food innovation platform to connect and share data.
“This is not just for or about Ontario, it could just as easily be called Canadian Precision Agri-Food,” said Tyler Whale of Ontario Agri-Food Technologies (OAFT). “We are piloting this in Ontario but it’s intended to be available nation-wide to those who want to use it.”
Other project partners include University of Guelph, University of Waterloo, Niagara College, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Livestock Research Innovation Corporation, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Grain Farmers of Ontario and Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
The goal, according to lead researcher Dr. Karen Hand of Precision Strategic Solutions, is to get data from sensors so it can be used to help advance big issues of importance, such as food safety, traceability and disease surveillance.
“How do we answer questions with science and data if they’re not connected?” Hand said, adding that the third party, independent organization approach with OPAF is a model that industry supports in terms of security, privacy and respecting data ownership rights.
For example, the platform could be used to help fight pests and diseases, such as weevils or cutworms. Currently, information about things like prevalence and control lies with many different people and organizations, including university and government researchers, crop advisors, input suppliers and growers.
There is no single spot where all of the information about a particular pest can be accessed in a science-based system and used in decision-making, said Hand, and that’s where OPAF’s platform will help.
It can also help boost productivity and efficiency by removing redundancy from systems, where, for example, the same data is keyed in repeatedly simply because platforms can’t communicate.
Ontario’s grain farmers are one commodity working with OPAF on pilot projects that identify sectoral needs in areas like crop protection, sustainability and food safety and how OPAF can provide solutions to benefit farmers. Projects are also underway in dairy and poultry.
“We sit down with representatives from a sector including producers, advisors, associations, government and research to find out what data they have, where it exists and if we were able to connect them, what value or benefit would that offer participants,” she said.
“It can be cross-commodity as well, such as food safety or trade impact. In the end, we want to have a system that can readily answer these questions through all available data,” she added.
Earlier this year, Internet of Food and Farm 2020, a large project in the EU exploring the potential of Internet of Things technologies of European food and farming, recognized OPAF as one of three global projects to collaborate with.
“This is going to be changing the face of data enablement in Canada and contributing globally,” Whale said. “We are creating a platform that is the base of something new.”