What role can data play in the fight against climate change?
Anastasia Volkova, Founder and CEO of Regrow, recently spoke with Rodger Wasson, host of the podcast Farm to Table Talk. The two spoke in a separate podcast called Deeper Dive, presented by The Larta Institute and OCP North America.
Anastasia and Rodger spoke extensively about the future of agriculture and its role in combating climate change. More specifically, they addressed some of the industry’s biggest questions about the role of data in agriculture. How should we use it, how can we scale it, and can it really make farming more sustainable and efficient?
Data can make farming substantially more sustainable, without sacrificing financial security for growers. With data, growers and their advisors can plan inputs efficiently, track the effectiveness of different management practices, and monitor carbon sequestration and other environmental impacts of their efforts.
Data from farm management systems, satellite imagery, remote sensing, and on-the-ground efforts (like soil sampling and in-field scouting) work together to show growers the larger picture of their efforts. When gathered and used appropriately, data can help farmers understand the causes and effects of their management practices, with enough clarity to calculate costs, ROI and environmental impact.
However, collecting data can be expensive and time-consuming, which can cut into a grower’s operating costs and make sustainable farming less profitable. Sometimes, despite a grower’s best intentions, adopting sustainable farming practices is not feasible financially.
Companies that work in agriculture data and technology, like Regrow, are finding new ways to make data accessible and usable for growers. This means making data usable on a large scale, understanding the validity of that data, and planning for the future of data use in agriculture.
Data and Scalability
During their conversation, Rodger and Anastasia first considered data scalability. “When I think about [data collection],” Rodger said, “I think about going to the lab, with a soil sample, on the field level. And that’s quite easy to do on a small scale, but [the industry] has to be able to do that on a macro level.”
Gathering data on a macro level is essential in enabling the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices. However, in order to appropriately use this data, we must balance scalability with accuracy and validity, ensring that large-scale data sets are as clean as possible. Anastasia emphasized this idea:
“We’re treading the path that will lead to scale… but [data collection] is like a triangle between scalability, accuracy and rigor.”
The goal, for those working to propel climate action, is to hit the center of that triangle while maintaining the flexibility to extend towards each of those points. Scalability, accuracy and rigor of agriculture data are all improving over time. If the industry can advance steadily in all three categories, we will likely see wider adoption of resilient, climate-smart farming practices.
Perfecting the Science
Another challenge in using large-scale data is ensuring its validity. Science is rarely perfect, and data collection methods and technology are always changing. However, as the data becomes more abundant, the science of measurement and validation will improve and deploying incentives to promote climate-friendly farming practices will become more cost-efficient.
Anastasia recognizes this, but believes it’s essential to jumpstart climate action and improve the science over time.
“In order for us to initiate climate action in agriculture,” she says, “we do not need to have perfect science. We can go with the science we have now, as long as we are honest, transparent and objective with its current limitations.”
Tools Unlocking the Future of Data
Anastasia and Rodger also discussed the scientific and technological innovations that unlock scalability and integrity in agriculture data. Remote sensing, crop modeling and soil sampling are three technologies that allows growers to track crop production, management practices and soil health on a large scale, while reducing the need for costly manual data collection and verification.
Reducing the cost of gathering and analyzing data is essential for the adoption of resilient agriculture practices, because it makes these practices more profitable for farmers and more worthwhile for large operations.
Regrow is currently using this technology in its independent MRV platform, which makes carbon markets cost-effective and transparent at a large scale.
When it comes to the future of data, agriculture and climate change, Anastasia has a strong perspective:
“We’ve been obsessing over the idea that we can do better than what we’re doing now. By having the technical knowledge of what can be done and… an understanding of the greater mission…. Everyone [will be] part of this mission, and everyone will be a catalyst in their own right.”
You can listen to the Larta Institute podcast here. Visit our website to learn more about Regrow’s independent MRV, a tool that enables scalable data collection and verification for agriculture carbon markets.