Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.
There are several variations of this proverb, but the general idea behind it — teach people how to reach long-term solutions to help them face more productive futures — endures. Based on this belief, the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, IBM and the AgStack Foundation, a Linux Foundation project, 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 initiated by George Askew, Clemson vice president for Public Service and Agriculture. One focus of the EATS community is the creation of the Digital Ag Recommendations Server, or Ag-Rec, a massive database that will house Extension Service recommendations related to issues farmers routinely face.
“Food is an essential requirement for life, for everyone across the globe,” Askew said. “U.S. land-grant Institutions have information available through their Cooperative Extension Services that can help people get the food and nutrition they need. This program will help get this information to 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 through county agents. Through Ag-Rec, farmers around the world will be able to access information related to their crops. Geotagging will allow the use of local market and climate data so that information is region specific. Information contained in Ag- Rec will be freely accessible to app developers for incorporation into related apps.
Establishment of the program is coordinated by Clemson precision agriculture engineer Kendall Kirk, with project management led by Mallory Douglass. Kirk is part of a robust team of scientists dedicated to developing precision agriculture technologies such as software, sensors, UAVs and robots all designed to increase farming productivity and sustainability. The team is housed at the Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville, South Carolina. Douglass is a recent Clemson Master of Business Administration graduate 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 anticipate will be the start of revolutionizing delivery of Extension programs worldwide. We intend to build a framework that Extension programs everywhere can contribute to.”
Kirk said the traditional methods of Extension communications, “boots on the ground,” will continue to be imperative. Thomas Dobbins, director of Clemson Extension, said this new method of information sharing will help Extension become better engaged with farmers in South Carolina, as well as those across the globe.
“This Ag-Rec database will give us the ability to better serve South Carolina farmers and extend our recommendations to populations in underserved communities as well as in developing countries where Extension recommendations are nonexistent,” Dobbins said. “Establishing this global, digital framework will help revolutionize the Cooperative Extension Service.”
Call for Code is the largest and most ambitious effort to bring together the world’s software developers to take on pressing societal issues, using the latest advanced technologies to problem solve and create cutting-edge solutions. Through this collaboration, the parties are working to modernize and digitize vast amounts of agricultural data.
By digitizing this data, farmers and agriculture enthusiasts can use more real-time data to help increase their crop yields.
Developing a digital framework for agricultural recommendations creates opportunities within EATS for collaboration with IBM and other companies including those that focus on sensor and technology development, implementation and testing, mobile accessibility, rural connectivity, edge computing, computational analytics (big data), positioning, sustainability, artificial intelligence, supply chain optimization, app development and more. Brandy Byrd, IBM software development manager, said this 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 information they receive from their Cooperative Extension Service researchers and county agents,” Byrd said. “Our collaborative work will help get this information to farmers to improve yields and advise on day-to-day farming practices. Digitizing and modernizing this data helps bring agriculture recommendations to farmers when and where they need it without having to be in a particular location. Open sourcing the Agricultural Recommendations (AgRec) Prototype API is a great first step to get the AgStack open-source community involved.”
As one of Clemson University’s strategic corporate partners, IBM has multiple touchpoints across the University including research, programmatic support and advisory board participation.
The data infrastructure behind and powering this Digital Extension Framework will be managed and hosted by AgStack — the food and agriculture-focused open-source organization at The Linux Foundation. AgStack is focused on improving global agriculture efficiency through the creation, maintenance and enhancement of free, centralized, sovereign, open and specialized digital infrastructure for data and applications.
AgStack plans to host the code in one of its Github repositories and, separately, the agronomic recommendation engine and data through its open, free, secure and neutral cloud. This will allow for free creation (developers to contribute code and offer technical design input) and use. The project named Ag-Rec is expected to be released by late 2022.
Sumer Johal, executive director of the AgStack Foundation, is very supportive of this collaboration and what it could mean for the global agriculture community.
“We believe the world of agriculture is going through a digital transformation and this transformation needs to benefit from a common community-contained neutral and trusted infrastructure,” Johal said. “What we’re doing is taking existing bodies of work relevant to agriculture and sewing them together to create a common, free and open digital infrastructure to benefit farmers and other agricultural stakeholders all over the world.”
The Ag-Rec server and EATS community are also in alignment with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). This program, led by former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley, provides food assistance to people recovering from conflict, disasters and impacts 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,” said Beasley in a video tweet. “If you don’t get the food you need, you get malnourished and you get sick. Here I am in the children’s wing of a hospital where the number of patients is doubling because people don’t have the proper food to eat. Mothers bring their children here and the children recover only to go back home to no food and the horrible cycle is repeated.
“We’ve got to do something about this. We have to get these people the food they need so that these children can survive.”