Cropping up on every farm: Big data technology

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What if you could break down a crop into bits and bytes? Data analytics technology is advancing in agriculture, changing how farmers approach their work.

FORTUNE — Picture a farmer harvesting a crop in a sunny Iowa field. The word “data” probably isn’t one of the things that come to mind.

But against the backdrop of that bucolic imagery, the modern agriculture industry is as wired up as any other.

Thanks in large part to a concept known as precision agriculture, fields are now mapped with GPS coordinates. “We know a lot about variables like soil and elevation,” said David Fischhoff, chief scientist at Climate Corp., which was acquired by Monsanto (MON) last year for nearly $1 billion. With finely tuned planting tools, farmers “can monitor in real time — while they’re planting — where every seed is placed,” he said. “When they come back at harvest time, they have yield monitors, allowing the combine to measure the yield every meter of the way.”

In other words, there’s no shortage of data. “I’m not sure people appreciate how much data farmers have,” Fischhoff said. “The challenge has been: What do you do with it? How can it help the farmer make decisions?”

Monsanto, John Deere (DE) and DuPont Pioneer (DD) are among the companies scrambling to help farmers do more with their exploding volumes of data. Big data and data analytics technology, known better for its increasing presence in office buildings and storefronts, is just as present in the amber waves of grain (and other crops) across the United States.

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Cropping up on every farm: Big data technology

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