Microsoft helps US Department of Agriculture organise data sets in the cloud

Sean Dudley
Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley on 30 July 2014
Microsoft helps US Department of Agriculture organise data sets in the cloud

Microsoft is supporting the US Government’s Climate Data Initiative (CDI) and its inclusion of food resilience by helping to open, organise and centralise climate-relevant data on the Data.gov climate website.

First announced in June 2013 by US president Barack Obama, progress is being made by the CDI in a range of areas, including food resilience. The White House recently announced a series of public and private partnerships and commitments to further its support of the initiative, one of which features the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

USDA has teamed up with the Microsoft Research team to organise data sets and tools in the cloud, helping to provide insight into the potentially vulnerable points in the food system. These include the effects of climate change, the reliability of food transportation and safety, and international trade.

Microsoft has posted USDA data sets to the Microsoft Azure Marketplace, helping to simplify the ability to obtain data for analysis and apps, which is now accessible using the search term ‘USDA’. 

“Microsoft is working with the USDA on the CDI initiative because we believe that technology can help with the challenge of climate change and food resilience,” said Dan Fay, director of Earth, Energy, and Environment for Microsoft Research. “This can be accomplished through making the data much more available via the Microsoft Azure Marketplace – as well as helping users better analyse the data via tools such as Microsoft Excel and cloud-based tools such as Azure Machine Learning.”

Thanks to the Azure Marketplace, USDA data sets will be exposed, with more to be added over the next year. An agriculture tab will also be added to its user interface. Power BI also provides self-service data analytics and free access to the Azure Marketplace.

Microsoft Research plays a key role in dealing with topics that affect agriculture, including food safety, protecting natural resources, addressing hunger both in the US and further afield.

USDA and Microsoft Research will be hosting its ‘Innovation Challenge’ from 20 October – 10 December, which features a series of developer activities related to food resilience in vital US metropolitan areas. This challenge is aimed at developing and publishing new apps and tools to help visualise and analyse data from multiple sources.

Participants of the Innovation Challenge will benefit from a series of webinars produced by USDA and Microsoft to describe the data sets and boost awareness of open-source data provided by the US government.

“The Innovation Challenge is a way to focus attention on how the data sets being made available in the Microsoft Azure Marketplace from the USDA and other agencies can be used to create new analyses and make the results available via tools and applications,” said Fay. “This is an opportunity for individuals to use the data sets in innovative ways for the betterment of society.”

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