ISU Researchers Receive $100,000 USDA Grant to Help Organic Farmers

Big Data in a BoxSales of certified organic goods have more than doubled since 2011, yet it remains difficult for a conventional farmer to transition to organic farming due to onerous government regulations, record keeping requirements, certification rules, and fees.  It is a problem a group of Iowa State University (ISU) researchers would like to solve for small and mid-sized farms to help them become more competitive in the market.  Priyanka Jayashankar, Adjunct Assistant Professor for the ISU Seed Science Center (SSC) and the Ivy College of Business is part of the group led by Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Srinivas Reddy and Co-PI, Dr. Sree Nilakanta.   The trio has landed a $100,000 USDA grant to develop a low-cost, easy-to-use commercial data capture and analysis tool to help farmers meet the certification requirements. 

The grant was given to Big Data in a Box (BDiB) LLC which was founded by Dr. Nilakanta.  This project titled “SPIDER’ stands for A Small Portable Interactive Data Extraction and Reporting tool for Organic Farmers.  It would be a small data collecting device, which can store and create digital documents for farmers, without the need of wifi.  This is especially important since many rural areas don’t have reliable internet service.  The core focus areas of this proposal are to enable organic farmers to record activities in the field with an edge computing device, record transactions with vendors and suppliers, and enable efficient organic certification compliance. Dr Jayashankar (pictured below), who has co-authored with Dr Nilakanta papers in the areas of digital agriculture, agricultural marketing, and sustainability, will design surveys on how farmers can effectively deploy BDiB’s  SPIDER tool for certification and transaction recording purposes.

Priyanka Jayashankar“Farmers will participate in tests designed by me to informally collect feedback on the performance of the tool in-field use,” Jayashankar said. “The team will set up scenarios of data collection in the field and inside to elicit feedback on how well the processes we have developed work for the participants in the study.”

Jayashankar, who teaches entrepreneurial marketing and other business courses, was chosen as co-PI because of her unique expertise at the intersection of marketing, digital agriculture and sustainability, all of which address the research needs of the BDiB project.

“My experience in surveying and interviewing farmers on business-to-business market linkages, technology adoption and sustainability are relevant to the upcoming studies for BDiB,” Jayashankar said. 

Jayashankar and the BDiB team will develop and administer surveys to the farm participants before the end of the project to determine the farmers’ satisfaction with the data collection forms, the device interface and usability, and farmers will participate in tests designed by  Jayashankar to informally collect feedback on the performance of the tool in-field use.  The project should take about nine months to complete.

“I really look forward to working on the project as BDiB offers unique digital ag solutions to organic farmers, who constitute a market niche that is still untapped by ag tech providers,” Jayashankar said. “BDiB's portable tools can help farmers meet sustainability goals and also gain better efficiency in documentation and certification.”