Revolutionizing Extension: Effort to Educate Farmers on Crop Sustainability | Agriculture
DENISE ATTAWAY Clemson University
Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he will eat all his life.
There are several variations of this proverb, but the general idea behind it – to teach people how to find long-term solutions to help them face a more productive future – endures. Based on this belief, the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, IBM, and the AgStack Foundation, a project of the Linux Foundation, are working together to provide farmers around the world with educational information on how to grow crops sustainably.
From this collaboration, Clemson’s Ecosystem for Agricultural Technology Sharing, or EATS, community is being established. The EATS concept was pioneered by George Askew, Clemson’s vice president for public service and agriculture. One of the goals of the EATS community is the creation of the Digital Farming Recommendations Server, or Ag-Rec, a massive database that will house recommendations from extension services related to issues that farmers regularly face.
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“Food is an essential requirement of life, for everyone across the world,” Askew said. “US land-grant institutions have information through their cooperative extension services that can help people get the food and nutrition they need. This program will help get this information to the people who need it most in South Carolina, the United States and beyond. The extension service was founded in 1914 and acts as a repository of science-based agricultural recommendations shared by county officers. With Ag-Rec, farmers around the world will be able to access information about their crops. Geolocation will allow the use of local market and climate data so that information is region specific. Information in Ag-Rec will be freely available to app developers for incorporation into related apps.”
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Implementation of the program is coordinated by Clemson Precision Agriculture Engineer Kendall Kirk, with project management led by Mallory Douglass. Kirk is part of a strong team of scientists dedicated to developing precision agriculture technologies such as software, sensors, drones and robots, all designed to increase the productivity and sustainability of agriculture.
The team is housed at the Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville. Douglass is a recent MBA graduate from Clemson who has been involved with EATS since its inception.
“The Cooperative Extension Service has information to help farmers sustainably grow productive crops,” Kirk said. “Through the Ag-Rec Server, we are establishing a digital presence for extension recommendations, which we believe will be the start of the revolution in delivering extension programs around the world. We intend to build a framework to which extension programs around the world can contribute.
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Kirk said traditional methods of extension communication, “boots in the field,” will continue to be imperative. Thomas Dobbins, director of Clemson Extension, said this new method of sharing information will help extension better engage with farmers in South Carolina, as well as those around the world.
“This Ag-Rec database will allow us to better serve South Carolina farmers and expand our recommendations to populations in underserved communities as well as developing countries where extension recommendations are non-existent,” Dobbins said. . “The establishment of this global digital framework will help revolutionize the cooperative extension service.”
Collaboration with IBM
Call for Code is the largest and most ambitious effort to bring together software developers around the world to tackle pressing societal issues, using the latest advanced technologies to solve problems and create solutions for point. Through this collaboration, the parties strive to modernize and digitize large amounts of agricultural data.
By digitizing this data, farmers and farming enthusiasts can use more real-time data to increase their crop yield.
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The development of a digital framework for agricultural recommendations creates opportunities within EATS for collaboration with IBM and other companies, including those focused on the development, implementation and testing of sensors and technologies, mobile accessibility, rural connectivity, edge computing, computer analytics (big data), positioning, sustainability, artificial intelligence, supply chain optimization, application development and more . Brandy Byrd, software development manager at IBM, said the collaboration is important because many rural farmers in the United States do not have access to the latest crop and pest management data.
“Farmers rely on the information they receive from researchers in their cooperative extension services and county officers,” Byrd said. “Our collaborative work will help convey this information to farmers to improve yields and advise them on day-to-day farming practices. Digitizing and modernizing this data makes it possible to provide agricultural recommendations to farmers when and where they need them without having to be in a particular location. The open source Agricultural Recommendations Prototype API (AgRec) is a great first step to engage the open source AgStack community.
As one of Clemson University’s strategic business partners, IBM has multiple touchpoints across the university, including research, programmatic support, and advisory board participation.
Collaboration with AgStack
The data infrastructure behind and powering this digital extension framework will be managed and hosted by AgStack – the Linux Foundation’s food and agriculture-focused open source organization. AgStack is focused on improving the efficiency of global agriculture by creating, maintaining and improving a free, centralized, sovereign, open and specialized digital infrastructure for data and applications.
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AgStack plans to host the code in one of its Github repositories and, separately, the agronomic recommendation engine and the data via its open, free, secure and neutral cloud. This will allow free creation and use (developers will contribute code and offer technical design input). The project named Ag-Rec is expected to be released in late 2022.
Sumer Johal, Executive Director of the AgStack Foundation, is very supportive of this collaboration and what it could mean for the global farming community.
“We believe that the world of agriculture is going through a digital transformation and that this transformation must benefit from a common neutral and trusted infrastructure, contained in the community,” Johal said. “What we’re doing is taking existing bodies of work relevant to agriculture and bringing them together to create a common, free and open digital infrastructure for the benefit of farmers and other agricultural stakeholders around the world.”
United Nations World Food Program
The Ag-Rec server and EATS community are also aligned with the United Nations World Food Program. This program, led by former South Carolina Governor David Beasley, provides food assistance to people recovering from conflict, disaster and the effects of climate change.
In November 2021, Beasley was in a children’s ward at a hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where children were dying because they didn’t have proper food to eat.
“It’s not that complicated,” Beasley said in a video tweet. “If you don’t get the food you need, you become malnourished and sick. Here I am in the children’s wing of a hospital where the number of patients doubles because people don’t have enough to eat. Mothers bring their children here and the children recover only to return home without food and the horrible cycle repeats itself.
“We have to do something about it. We must provide these people with the food they need so that these children can survive.
Denise Attaway reports in public service and agriculture at Clemson University College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences.