USDA, Microsoft to launch 'Innovation Challenge' to address food resiliency

USDA, Microsoft to launch 'Innovation Challenge' to address food resiliency

The Innovation Challenge was created in support of the President's Climate Data Initiative, which aims to harness climate data in ways that will increase the resilience of America's food system.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with Microsoft to launch the "Innovation Challenge," a contest designed to explore how climate change will impact the United States' food system with the intent of achieving better food resiliency. The challenge invites entrants to develop and publish new applications and tools that can analyze multiple sources of information about the nation's food supply, including key USDA data sets that are now hosted on Microsoft Azure, Microsoft's cloud-computing platform.

"For more than 100 years, USDA has compiled data from economic reports and farm production surveys, and more recently from satellite imagery and remote sensors that can provide information on the health of crops around the country," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Through this partnership with Microsoft, we are now putting that data into the hands of people who can help us derive new insights to address factors that threaten our ability to feed a growing global population. This offers very exciting possibilities, and I look forward to seeing the new tools that contest participants develop."

For the first time, key USDA datasets are being made available in the cloud where they can be accessed and blended with other data to give novel insights or used in new types of end-user applications. Combining these USDA data with cloud-computing resources 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.

The increased prevalence and availability of data from satellite imagery, remote sensors, surveys and economic reports mean that we can analyze, model and predict an extremely diverse set of properties associated with our food production. Applications might combine data from the USDA and other government sources, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or the United States Geological Survey, and can be targeted at farmers, scientists, food producers, insurance companies or consumers.

"I am looking forward to discovering what creative ideas the community comes up with through blending together USDA data, novel ways of exploring and analyzing data with access to large scale computing and data analysis in the form of Microsoft's Azure platform," said Dr. Daron Green, Deputy Managing Director of Microsoft Research. "Microsoft and the USDA seek to catalyze the creativity of others and hope that the challenge will provide a great incentive for developers and researchers interested in data science to put together some great applications helping address the USA's food resiliency needs."

Microsoft will promote the challenge at the 2015 meeting of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association. Full details can be found at http://usdaapps.challengepost.com.

The Innovation Challenge was created in support of the President's Climate Data Initiative, which aims to harness climate data in ways that will increase the resilience of America's food system. This is a direct response to the President's call for all hands on deck to generate further innovation to help prepare America's communities and business for the impacts of climate change.

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