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USDA Data Supports “Hackathon” for Agriculture Problem-Solving Competition

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Washington, D.C., May 28, 2019 – USDA recently took another step forward on its path of accelerated IT modernization, with the ultimate goal of improving the way it designs agricultural services and interacts with agricultural producers. USDA joined technical experts, IT professionals, and app developers for the first hackathon at the 2019 Internet of Things World Conference in Santa Clara, California. Working collaboratively, the teams developed new and innovative ideas to solve challenging issues affecting agriculture.

“Hackathons are a great way to spur innovation and have the potential to solve real issues,” said Ted Kaouk, USDA’s Chief Data Officer. “Farmers and ranchers are using data from satellites, weather forecasts, sensors, and other technology for more precise agriculture, which is helping to improve agricultural processes on their operation while increasing profits and providing even better protection to the environment.”

Collaborators at the hackathon used the USDA’s soil, geospatial, and water forecasting data to develop IT products that addressed access to water resources and efficient use of  water  to support the sustainability, growth, and viability of agriculture. The winning hackathon team, Smart Ag, developed a low-cost, low-power smart-farming solution that would enable farmers to use devices to monitor a variety of conditions, such as water needs for crops and livestock health.

USDA employees supported the hackathon by serving as judges and mentors for the competition.

“At NRCS we work to ensure the health of our natural resources and the long-term sustainability of American agriculture,” said Sharif Branham, Acting Deputy Chief of NRCS Soil Science and Resource Assessment. “This hackathon offered an innovative opportunity for our staff to engage with developers and technologists on using NRCS data to develop real-world solutions that address water management challenges in rural America.”

The hackathon follows the White House’s push toward IT modernization through the new Center of Excellence (CoE) model. The model has five focus areas: cloud adoption, IT infrastructure optimization, customer experience, service delivery analytics and contact centers. USDA, which has been designated a CoE, is using this new model to support the improved use of IT resources throughout the department.