Intel is spearheading projects to improve food and water security in California. California is a particularly apt place to start; agriculture in the region is a $46.3 billion industry, and they’re world leaders in avocado and almond production. But they’re also facing a devastating drought; nearly one third of their water comes from snowpack, which is currently at 20% of its normal levels. Reservoirs are also running low, and rural communities are being warned this vital resource may run out altogether.

This is where Intel comes in. They’ve begun launching smaller initiatives and increasing data access, with a view to eventually pooling their data to become a global agricultural resource for scientists. “We’re using big data analytic solutions [that are] applied to significant problems,” said Vin Sharma, director of strategy and business development for the cloud analytics division at Intel. “Without overstating it, it’s trying to solve problems of world-changing scope.”

One project they’re working on is addressing the snowpack situation. This project is being run in conjunction with the Earth Research Institute at the University of California Santa Barbara. They’re using satellite imagery and mapping technologies to measure and forecast snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and using this data to predict how much water California will have access to in the future. The project is currently gathering more than 20TB of data a month. Before this project, gathering these kinds of measurements would involve researchers going out into snowpack areas and making these measurements manually. Intel plans for this data to be widely accessible to scientists and researchers, making the data-gathering process faster and easier for many.

Another project they’re working involves precision farming techniques, something they’re working on with University of California, Davis, and the World Food Center. They’re placing crop sensors in the fields to measure moisture. Talking about big data’s role in precision farming, Sharma stated “It makes it interesting from big data analytics. One particular stream of data when combined with other source of data, so it’s not just soil moisture, nature, and composition combined with weather and climate. That combo of data sets is a better predictor of that irrigation operation, [whereas before] it was purely based on hindsight, or on guesswork.” Globally, the agricultural industry is responsible for 70% of freshwater usage; UC Davis estimates their project could cut water usage by as much as 50%.

Moving forward, Intel is committed to greater data access, meaning the brightest minds and most innovative insitutions have access to their data. They’re also looking at how to use this data beyond the fields, further along in the food supply chain- in restaurants, stores and manufacturing.

Read more here.
(Photo credit: Peter Thoeny)

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