FARMINGTON, Wash. – The gently rolling hills here in eastern Washington have long grown bountiful crops of wheat, barley and lentils.

Fifth-generation farmer Andrew Nelson adds a remarkable new crop to this award: data.

It collects it from sensors in the soil, drones in the sky and satellites in space. They provide Nelson with information about his farm at various points, every day, throughout the year — temperature variations, soil moisture and nutrient levels, plant health, and more.

Nelson, in turn, submitted this data to the FarmVibes project, a new suite of farm-focused technologies from Microsoft Research. Starting today, Microsoft will open source these tools so that researchers and data scientists—and the rare farmer like Nelson, who is also a software engineer—can build on them to turn agricultural data into action that can help increase of yields and cost reduction.

The first open source release is FarmVibes.AI. This is an exemplary set of algorithms aimed at inspiring the research and data science community to advance data-driven agriculture. Nelson uses this AI-powered toolkit to help make decisions in every phase of farming, from before the seed hits the ground to well after harvest.

FarmVibes.AI’s algorithms, which run on Microsoft Azure, predict the ideal amounts of fertilizer and herbicide Nelson should use and where to apply them; predicts temperatures and wind speeds in his fields, informing when and where to plant and spray; determining the ideal seed planting depth based on soil moisture; and tell him how different crops and practices can sequester carbon in his soil.

Andrew Nelson studies a FarmVibes.AI image identifying grass weeds in one of his fields. It was created from multispectral drone imagery and will inform Nelson on treatment decisions later this fall. (Photo: Dan DeLong for Microsoft)

“Project FarmVibes allows us to build the farm of the future,” said Nelson, who partnered with Microsoft Research to turn his 7,500 acres into a testing ground for Project FarmVibes. “We are demonstrating the impact that technology and AI can have in agriculture. For me, Project FarmVibes saves a lot of time, saves a lot of costs and helps us control all the problems we have on the farm.”

The new tools grew out of Microsoft’s work with major customers such as Land O’ Lakes and Bayer for data integration and analysis. The FarmVibes project reflects the latest research in precision and sustainable agriculture.

By opening up its latest research tools, Microsoft wants to spread them far beyond Washington to help address the world’s pressing food problem, said Ranveer Chandra, managing director of Industry research.

By 2050, we will need to double global food production to feed the planet, Chandra said. But as climate change accelerates, water levels drop and arable land disappears, achieving this sustainably will be a huge challenge.

“We believe one of the most promising approaches to tackling this problem is data-driven agriculture,” he said.

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