Bringing Big Data to Farms

October 20, 2020

Tensas Parish farmer Mead Hardwick and his family work in close collaboration with LSU to optimize yields and fertilization management, while lessening their footprint on the environment.

As modern farm machinery not only harvests crops but also lots and lots of data, an LSU AgCenter mathematician added artificial intelligence to the mix to make the data more useful for growers.

He trained a computer system to recognize the edges of fields and areas with different amounts of vegetation based on drone and satellite images, which then can be analyzed for plant vigor, pinpointing spots that might need more seed or fertilizer and getting that information to Hardwick and other farmers in real time.

So far, the researchers have focused on optimizing Louisiana crops such as sugarcane, soybeans, rice, corn, cotton, sweet potatoes, wheat, and sorghum—industries with an estimated total annual economic impact of about $6.4 billion. But now, through an industry partnership with Ag-Analytics, a farm management company that approached LSU AgCenter first when looking for universities to collaborate with, the research stretches around the globe.

While we’re still far from “self-driving farms,” the benefit of data-driven “smart farms” is becoming clearer each day—especially as rapidly changing environments make it harder and harder to rely on experience.

Binary cow

Management of modern farms increasingly rely on massive amounts of data.


“LSU has helped us be more confident, efficient, and sustainable—especially with our nutrients—and the solutions are already at scale. It’s all about being strategic about where you invest your dollars.”

Mead Hardwick, a fourth-generation farmer at the Hardwick Planting Company, an 8,000-acre farm in Tensas Parish