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USDA/Microsoft "Innovation Challenge" Offers $60K in Prizes to Software Developers

Posted by Ann Bartuska, Ph.D., Deputy Undersecretary, Research, Education, and Economics in Conservation Technology
Jul 24, 2015

Farmers have long looked to the clouds for signs of relief, but a new competition launched by USDA and Microsoft will tap the Internet cloud to help farmers and our food systems to adapt to climate change. The “Innovation Challenge” is asking software developers to create applications that will use more than 100 years of USDA data to explore how our food system can achieve better food resiliency.

Climate change will likely affect every aspect of the food system—whether it’s the ability to grow food, the reliability of food transportation and food safety efforts, or the dynamics of international trade in agricultural goods. Even so, we don’t yet fully know how to anticipate and mitigate any negative changes.

USDA has been compiling data for more than a century on the health of crops around the country. This information, taken from economic reports, farm production surveys, satellite imagery, and remote sensors, covers the full spectrum of factors faced by farmers, businesses, communities and individuals. Working with Microsoft, USDA is for the first time placing key datasets in the hands of people who can help us find new ways to address factors that threaten our ability to feed a growing global population.

Hosting these datasets on Microsoft Azure, Microsoft's cloud-computing platform, allows even very high fidelity and complex models to be processed in a timely manner and enables results to be delivered to remote users on their laptops, tablets or mobile phones.

The challenge offers $60,000 in prizes, including a top prize of $25,000, for applications that make use of the USDA data and provide actionable insights to farmers, agriculture businesses, scientists or consumers. In addition, Microsoft is granting cloud-computing awards to aid university researchers and students who wish to take part in the challenge.

The deadline for entries is November 20, 2015, giving challenge participants three months to create their applications.

Winners will be announced in December 2015.

Full details can be found at

We can’t wait to see what new tools and approaches emerge from this competition.

Category/Topic: Conservation Technology