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Illinois Corn Growers Tap Into NASA Data For New Cooperative

Combine harvests corn
Nati Harnik
The Farmer Data Cooperative is a joint project between the Bloomington-based Illinois Corn Growers Association, NASA, and University of Illinois researchers.

Central Illinois farmers produce a lot of corn and soybeans. But they also produce tons of data.

Now, a new initiative aims to collect that data and tap into NASA’s expertise to help farmers make better decisions. The Farmer Data Cooperativeis a joint project between the Bloomington-based Illinois Corn Growers Association, NASA, and University of Illinois researchers, all powered by the data collected at the farm level.

That includes yield information from combines, for example, or the variable rates at which seeds are planted or fertilizer applied.

“Many farmers are not making great use of the data they’re generating today. That’s one of the reasons we saw great value in a program like this,” said Dr. Laura Gentry, director of water quality research at ICGA.

The public is increasingly wary about sharing their data with others—and farmers are no exception. But Gentry said ICGA is able to put farmers at ease because of its relationships with the U of I researchers who will be accessing the data. Confidential laws and regulations can make it hard for researchers to access data without an initiative like this, she said.

The goal, she said, is to help farmers understand their own data and then use it to improve efficiency and reduce nutrient loss and even greenhouse gas emissions.

“Data is very powerful,” Gentry said. “And farmers recognize that, and they also recognize the potential for it to be used against them in some cases. And that’s been done before, so farmers can be a little wary about sharing data and with whom they share their data.”

The U of I researchers will have special access to “highly coveted” NASA data sets through NASA’s Harvest program, Gentry said. Harvest uses satellite data to aid decision-making related to food security and agriculture domestically and globally.

The Farmer Data Cooperative is 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," Gentry said. 

Full Farmer Data Segment

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.