Robert Allen - Turning data into information - How do we maximise the potential of digital technology?
My initial interest in agriculture developed growing up as I used to help out on the Cambridge University Farm (where my father was farm director) during the summer months, which included lending a helping hand with the experimental potato plots. I was also fortunate to undertake a summer internship at PepsiCo’s research farm in Wisconsin, USA and work on a sheep station in the Falkland Islands. At University I studied Physical Geography and completed a PhD looking at how glacial-geological evidence could be used as a proxy for reconstructing the climate of the Last Glacial Maximum. I currently work as a Data Scientist at Landmark Information Group, which manages on the one of the UK’s largest environmental data holdings. My role is focuses analysing agricultural and environmental data. I live in Exeter with my wife Hana, who is a bioinformatician at the University of Exeter. A lot of my spare time is spent on my allotment or helping out with the Exeter Wheelers cycling club.
My day job involves sitting at a desk looking at a data and numbers on a computer screen; so it’s a legitimate question to ask what can I contribute to agriculture? The common theme from my time helping out at Cambridge University Farm, through my academic studies to my current job has been that good data are required to support objective decision making.
The ability to collect raw data describing the agronomic performance of crops has been transformed by digital technology. However, from personal experience working with UK and US potato growers and processors this ability to collect data describing the agronomy of a crop is outstripping the capacity to handle, analyse and understand what these data mean; thus limiting the value that can be derived.
My intention for this project is to visit a mixture of farmers, data-focused industry organisations, agricultural data scientists and academic institutions to understand how this challenge can be tackled. This journey will take me across the US, UK and Europe.