Farmers, by their nature, want to raise enough food for everyone. That makes food security, ensuring all people have access to sufficient food every day, important to Illinois corn farmers. Through the Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA), local farmers are taking a small step with potentially big implications to address food security and crop efficiency and it starts at the farm level. The farmer-led group is working with NASA and University of Illinois researchers to develop a Farmer Data Cooperative that brings together practical farmer knowledge, internationally recognized scientists and the most advanced technology available.
The Farmer Data Cooperative is a first-of-its-kind relationship between farmers and a select group of University of Illinois researchers with special access to NASA datasets. Through this unique collaboration, researchers and farmers work together to develop tools and assessments to predict and address inefficiencies in agricultural management practices, assist with participation in up-and-coming ecosystem markets, and improve management of their farming operations.
Like a traditional cooperative, participating farmers are part-owners in the enterprise and will be able to influence the development of new work products, services and technologies resulting from the partnership. Unlike a normal cooperative in which customer-owners buy into the cooperative with a cash investment, farmer-owners would pay into the data cooperative by authorizing use of their farming data for development, calibration and validation of new technology tools. Farmer-owners also receive cash compensation for participation in the effort with additional opportunities for advanced access to technology resulting from the use of their data and input.
Dr. Laura Gentry, Director of Water Quality Research at ICGA, sees this new effort as “an unprecedented opportunity for farmers to take the lead in shaping the future of agriculture by creating exactly the tools we need to better address critical issues such as land use efficiency, nutrient management and exploring new market opportunities.” Dr. Kaiyu Guan, Assistant Professor of Ecohydrology and Remote Sensing at the University of Illinois and one of the lead researchers in this effort, brings a wealth of technological capacity to this effort and reports that he is “excited to be part of this unique collaboration ensuring food security for this generation and the future by maximizing crop production efficiency and farm sustainability.”
Initially, ICGA expects that farmers participating in the Precision Conservation Management program (a farmer service program led by ICGA) will be among the first offered the opportunity to participate in this landmark Farmer Data Cooperative, with the chance for other Illinois farmers to join as the program expands.