Ag-Rec: Improving Agriculture Around the World with Open Source Innovation

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One of the first projects I noticed after starting at the Linux Foundation was AgStack. It caught my attention because I have a natural inclination towards farming and ranching, although, in reality, I really just want a reason to own and use a John Deere tractor (or more than one). The reality is the closest I will ever get to being a farmer is my backyard garden with, perhaps, some chickens one day. But I did work in agriculture policy for a number of years, including some time at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. So, AgStack piqued my interest. Most people don’t really understand where their food comes from, the challenges that exist across the globe, and the innovation that is still possible in agriculture. It is encouraging to see the passion and innovation coming from the folks at AgStack.

Speaking of that, I want to dig into (pun intended) one of AgStacks’ projects, Ag-Rec.

Backing up a bit, in the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture operates a vast network of cooperative extension offices to help farmers, ranchers, and even gardeners improve their practices. They have proven themselves to be invaluable resources and are credited with improving agriculture practices both here in the U.S. and around the globe through research, information sharing, and partnerships. Even if you aren’t a farmer, they can help you with your garden, lawn, and more. Give them a call – almost every county has an office.

The reality with extension education is that it is still heavily reliant on individuals going to offices and reading printed materials or PDFs. It could use an upgrade to help the data be more easily digestible, to make it quicker to update, to expand the information available, and to facilitate information sharing around the world. Enter Ag-Rec. 

I listened to Brandy Byrd and Gaurav Ramakrishna, both with IBM, present about Ag-Rec at the Open Source Summit 2022 in Austin, Texas. 

Brandy is a native of rural South Carolina, raised in an area where everyone farmed. She recalled some words of wisdom her granddaddy always said, “Never sell the goose that laid the golden egg.” He was referring to the value of the farmland – it was their livelihood. She grew up seeing firsthand the value of farms, and she was already familiar with the value of the information from the extension service and of information sharing among farmers and ranchers beyond mornings at the local coffee shop. But she also sees a better way. 

The vision of Ag-Rec is a framework where rural farmers from small SC towns to anywhere in the world have the same cooperative extension framework where they can get info, advice, and community. They don’t have to go to an office or have a physical manual. They can access a wealth of information and that can be shared anywhere, anytime. 

On top of that, by making it open source, anyone can use the framework so anyone can build applications and make the data available in new and useful ways. Ag-Rec is providing the base for even more innovation. Imagine the innovation we don’t know is possible. 

The Roadmap

Brandy and Gaurav shared about how Ag-Rec is being built and how developers, UI experts, agriculture practices experts, end users, and others can help contribute. When the recording of the presentation is available we will share that here. You can also go over to Ag-Rec’s GitHub for more information and to help. 

Here is the current roadmap: 

Immediate

Design and development of UI with Mojoe.net
Plant data validation and enhancements
Gather requirements to provision additional Extensive Service recommendation data
Integrate User Registry for authentication and authorization

Mid-term

Testing and feedback from stakeholders
Deploy the solution on AgStack Cloud
Add documentation for external contribution and self-deployment

Long-term

Invite other Extension Services and communities
Iterate and continuous improvement

I, for one, am excited about the possibility of this program to help improve crop production, agricultural-land conservation, pest management, and more around the world. Farms feed the world, fuel economies, and so much more. With even better practices, their positive impact can be even greater while helping conserve the earth’s resources. 

The Partners

In May 2021, the Linux Foundation launched the AgStack Foundation to “build and sustain the global data infrastructure for food and agriculture to help scale digital transformation and address climate change, rural engagement, and food and water security.”  Not long after, IBM, Call for Code and Clemson University Cooperative Extension “sought to digitize data that’s been collected over the years, making it accessible to anyone on their phone or computer to search data and find answers they need.” AgStack “way to collaborate with and gain insights from a community of people working on similar ideas, and this helped the team make progress quickly.” And Ag-Rec was born. 

A special thank you to the core team cultivating (pun intended) this innovation: 

Brandy Byrd, IBM

Gaurav Ramakrishna, IBM

Sumer Johal, AgStack

Kendall Kirk, Clemson University

Mallory Douglass, Clemson University

Mojoe.net

Resources

Call for Code and AgStack open-source Ag Recommendations

Ag-Rec GitHub

<!–Ag-Rec Public Google Drive–>

AgStack Foundation

AgStack Slack

<!–AgStack Bi-Weekly Public Zoom Call–>

Presentation at Open Source Summit North America 2022 (YouTube link available soon)

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