Big Data in Agriculture: The Making of Smart Farms
Smart technologies are transforming farming: think of autonomous tractors and weeding robots, animal and underground infrastructures with in-built sensors, and drones or satellites offering image analysis from the air. There are many opportunities arising from this evolution in terms of increased productivity, profitability and sustainability, while critical issues include techno-dependency, vulnerability and privacy. This project contributes empirical evidence to the discussion of the opportunities and risks associated with smart farming. It starts from the assumption that smart farming – i.e. the management of agricultural practices and processes through data gathering, transfer and analysis techniques – is never neutral, but shaped by all kinds of decisions and judgments built into the systems from their very foundation. The project thus studies “what lies behind” novel smart farming solutions, looking at where, by whom and how they are produced and subsequently diffused as examples to follow. It achieves this by investigating two high-profile initiatives in Switzerland, with test sites both in Switzerland and elsewhere.
The project follows three methodological pathways: textual analysis of literature and reports, non-participant observation and semi-structured interviews. This approach is exploratory in its ambition and scope, and leads to further follow-up research proposals on Big Data in agriculture. On this basis, the project studies, informs and debates innovation in the agricultural sector. It highlights the factors that favor or hinder technological innovation, diffusion and adaptation, and fosters an improved understanding of their desirability or non-desirability.