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Clemson partners with IBM and AgStack to aid global food access

Molly Hulsey //February 4, 2022//

Clemson partners with IBM and AgStack to aid global food access

Molly Hulsey //February 4, 2022//

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Ag-Rec will be able to used by farmers from the Upstate to Uzbekistan with tailored information produced with geotagging. (Photo/Provided)Farming comes with a host of challenges, but a collaboration between the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service and some major players in the tech sector seeks to help farmers around the world scale some of those walls with data.

Clemson Vice President for Public Service and Agriculture George Askew came up with an idea for Clemson’s Ecosystem for Agriculture Technology Sharing, or EATS. IBM and AgStack Foundation, a Linux Foundation project, is helping turn that seed into the Digital Ag Recommendations Service, or Ag-Rec, a massive database that will house extension service recommendations for issues that farmers routinely face, according to a news release.

The Clemson Extension Service was founded in 1914 and acts as a repository of science-based agricultural recommendations shared through county agents.

Through Ag-Rec, geotagging will allow the use of local market and climate data so that information is region specific, the news release said. Information contained in Ag-Rec will be freely accessible to app developers for incorporation into related apps.

“Food is an essential requirement for life, for everyone across the globe,” Askew said in the release. “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.”

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 team of scientists dedicated to developing precision agriculture technologies such as software, sensors, UAVs and robots designed to increase farming productivity and sustainability, the release said. The team is housed at the Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville. Douglass is a recent Clemson MBA 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 in the release. “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.”

Thomas Dobbins, director of Clemson Extension, said this new method of information sharing will help the service become better engaged with farmers in South Carolina, as well as those across the globe, while Kirk said that traditional methods of extension communications, the “boots on the ground,” will continue to be imperative.

“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 in the release. “Establishing this global, digital framework will help revolutionize the cooperative extension service.”

IBM began to utilize the Call for Code network, the largest and most ambitious effort to bring together the world’s software developers to take on pressing societal issues, to modernize and digitize vast sweeps of agricultural data, according to the release.

Brandy Byrd, IBM software development manager, said the EATS 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 in the release “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 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 application, according to the release.

AgStack will allow for developers to contribute code and offer technical design input for the project after the project’s expected release late this year.

“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,” Sumer Johal, executive director of the AgStack Foundation, said in the release. “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 will also partner with the United Nations World Food Programme. This program, led by former S.C. 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, according to the release.

“It’s not that complicated,” Beasley said 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.”