«Grassroot» agro data foundation

Bi-O AS takes the initiative to establish the non-profit foundation Open Agro Data to secure core data as a basis for new tools for small-scale food production:

We need an easy-to-use source of structured high-quality agricultural data for grassroots growers: individual home gardeners, interest groups and small businesses who for one reason or another need computer systems to keep track of a large number of species and their characteristics.

Update 20.10.2020: We have decided that Open Agro Data will be the name of the foundation, and secured the domain openagrodata.org where you can read more about the project.

Bi-O’s concept development for a plant database

Bi-O as is a company that has sprung from a comprehensive and long-term vision to establish a transition project (examples of that here). To start somewhere, we have for several years focused on sustainable food production, and most recently on the informatics and logistical tasks that must be solved before the larger visions can begin to take shape.

Bi-O has for many years worked with concepts for a database project because we have needed it in our own work with complex cultivation systems where a large number of species and varieties are involved. We have, like so many others, developed various manual and semi-manual systems, mostly based on spreadsheets and image archives, but this is rapidly growing out of reach and becoming difficult to maintain and version.

What we eventually came to as quite obvious is that all such systems will have to use at least three main groups of data:

  • Core data: general data on species and varieties that are universally valid
  • External data: weather and climate data e.g.
  • User data: overviews of which species and varieties the user cultivates and data for all important aspects of working with these in time and space

Whether these databases live within one organization, and even on the same server, or are distributed on different organizations, we are talking about separate systems that will then communicate with each other. In programming language, this involves extensive development of APIs, which is hard work and will constitute most of the developer work in connection with such solutions.

plantedatabase-skisse
Foto: Bi-O. Board from a dev. session at Snippen in Maridalen in 2017

First implementation for KVANN

During 2019/20, our work has led to us developing a first concretization of our concepts, and this has taken place in continuation of Bi-Os Karl Aakerro has been responsible for a new web solution for the association KVANN. Read more about that here.

Bi-O: Front view of plant database for KVANN

The need for an independent system emerges

The problem is that building and maintaining a core database is a difficult task: Already now there are about 4000 species and an equally large number of varieties in the system, and it quickly becomes a hundred data per. unit, approaching 1 million data fields in total.

In practice, it will not be possible for a volunteer organization such as KVANN to do such work, nor will it be rational for such data to be stored locally by such a user, because the risk of clutter and data loss will be too large.

Since there is a lot of data out there already, and since this is a system many can benefit from and should have access to, Bi-O has decided to develop the system into a general solution with proper governance, maintenance structures, and technical resources.

This naturally means giving up the commercial opportunities that could lie in establishing this core database itself and running everything on a commercial basis as a service related to other products, but we have seen it as important that the core data is controlled by a separate non-profit body, rigged only for this purpose, and we believe it should be an ideal foundation.

With this move, Bi-O will be able to concentrate on the technical aspects and in that way support the project in the best possible way, as well as in an orderly manner on lines with other players be able to develop their own products and services that use and make this data available.

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