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Field Explorer - A unique building block for agrifood

Unique user-centric approach presents big-data in fields to make it accessible
The field is the building block of food and farming. So bringing together data related to the characteristics of 1.45m UK fields in one place offers the agrifood sector an unprecedented opportunity to extract new insights, said David Flanders CEO of Agrimetrics speaking at the Crystal in London Docklands to launch Field Explorer - a suite of field-related products.

Three field Field Explorer products give the agrifood sector unique access to publicly-funded and commercially available datasets, through a single interface.

Speaking at the event Prof Richard Tiffin, Chief Scientific Officer said: "There are still many unknowns in agriculture, but complex systems can behave in predictable ways if all the elements are connected. Creating a better-connected food system will allow us to avoid the shocks that can be catastrophic to food supply and to the associated natural ecosystems, communities and businesses."

Agrimetrics has invested two years in collating data that can be cross-analysed – and address the most pressing challenges facing the industry for the first time.

Public and acquired databases that can be accessed include those from the UK Met Office, Natural England, Environment Agency, ISRIC (International Soil Reference and Information Centre and NASA.

This creates a rich data resource that is easy for the agrifood industry to access – and act as a catalyst to inspire the development of new products and services.

Matthew Smith, Business Development Director for Microsoft described the Agrimetrics data platform, which is built on its Azure software, as a 'digital twin' - a virtual representation of the real world that allows prediction of the impact of interventions and a mechanism for asking questions.

He said: "Agrimetrics has created a valuable foundation for the digitisation of the agrifood industry. Now it is time to go out into the world and see how we can make businesses from it. It is an exciting opportunity."

A unique feature of Field Explorer is that access to environmental, soil and crop data is made through a 'map of fields', created by Agrimetrics from earth observation data provided by Airbus. This has been used to map field boundaries across the UK creating an interactive interface for the data.

The three Field Explorer products includes:
Field Facts, which is all the data (soil, weather, cropping) currently available about a particular location;
Field Trends, which provides historical data about the growing environment and crops; and
Field Forecast, which allows modelling of variables to provide predictions.

Field Explorer provides for the first time a single point of access for these data sources through a series of APIs (Application Programming interface) - a set of clear rules that allow different systems to talk to each other. Agrimetrics is providing further added value through modelling and AI.

"Airbus is delighted that its earth observation data is being used in this innovative way. It was great to work with Agrimetrics as it seeks to join up the agriculture sector. Field Explorer, which connects disparate data to field maps - is a great first step on this journey," said Dr John Wills, Airbus Sales Manager.

The user-centric approach was also welcomed by Dr Juno McKee, Strategic Projects Lead of NIAB: "The field structure forms a useful device for making sense of complex data. Difficulties in mapping fields has been a hurdle to the adoption of precision agriculture and this approach has great potential."

Norfolk Dairy Farmer Emily Norton was impressed by the efforts that Agrimetrics has made to improve industry access to publicly funded data, and firmly believes that streamlining data collection will be of great benefit. She said: "I think there is a strong role for the data centres to lobby to make sure Government data is open source. Data can then be valued accordingly, and still protected, but made available in a way that provides useful services to people. Only by making it open source can you have true innovation."

The days of keeping silos of data are over said Flanders: "The real value of data comes when you connect it. We are working with several multinational organisations to connect data held internally in different departments. This is allowing them to gain greater value from the information they have collected and to use it in new ways.

Dr David Lawrence Chair of Agrimetrics concluded: "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. What we are seeing here are, at last, are the tools the industry needs to do this. This is a huge opportunity but we need the interaction of those who need and use this information to get involved and help steer it."