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Joining a Noble Cause in Ag Tech

By Andrew Bancroft, Data Technologies Supervisor

Posted May 29, 2019

I never thought I’d be involved in agriculture. I’m a computer science nerd. It’s data points and algorithms that get my mind buzzing. But I’ve also always been drawn to a cause. I’ve never wanted to just crunch numbers in a cubicle. I want my work to matter.

So when I started looking for a job in my hometown, Ardmore, Oklahoma, the only place I seriously considered was the Noble Research Institute. They were looking for someone to build apps. And I wanted to build apps, but I didn’t want to build apps just to build apps.

I saw that Noble was a nonprofit. It wasn’t about chasing profits. It was about helping people. Specifically, it was about helping farmers and ranchers take care of the land so they can grow food for the rest of us — today and in the future. That was a cause I could get behind (I do enjoy a good steak!), and I was ecstatic when I got the call asking me to join “Team Noble.”

Working with Drones in pasture

Endless Opportunities in Ag Tech

Noble is a unique place because it’s doing research in laboratories and in the field. It develops new, improved forage varieties and manages cattle on its own ranches. It also works directly with other agricultural producers, providing them consultation and educational opportunities.

I’ve been here for about five years now, and I still get excited about what we’re doing. There are so many cool opportunities in agriculture for tech-minded people, especially at a scientific organization like Noble.

For example, technology is helping researchers collect more data — snapshots of the world around us — than ever before.

Fifteen years ago, researchers were clipping forage samples and sending them off to the lab for quality analyses. They still do that, but now we can also fly a drone or drive a tractor equipped with sensors over a field to get some of that information.

We’ve also attached video cameras to cows and GPS units to wild pigs to see how they interact with their environments, and we’re always looking for that next big thing.

Data to Make a Difference

When I started building apps, I realized we are really great at collecting data (apps are essentially the homes for all that information). That’s good because producers need more than just our gut reactions when we make forage breeding selections or offer them recommendations for their operations.

But the power of data isn’t in that we have it. The power of data is that it flows into knowledge, allowing us to see a bigger picture of what’s going on and get a better idea of what we could nudge to make things better.

A couple years ago, we started thinking about this.

We’ve got 15 years of data on how cattle performed on different forages in field trials. We also know many details about the cattle on our ranches. In some areas, we can even tell you how much an animal weighs every time it steps up to take a drink of water.

So what if we could tie some of those data sets together?

If we could, it would allow us to see more of the story. These more robust data sets could help the researchers find answers to more questions — not just their original one. And, ultimately, those answers would set our consultation and education staff up to make the best possible recommendations to farmers and ranchers.

Part of Something Bigger

Supporting agricultural researchers and consultants is a lot of fun because it means there’s an adventure around every corner.

There are days where we get out from behind our keyboards and drive around the ranches with our co-workers who tend cattle. Other days, we sit alongside a co-worker whose passion for science has brought them to Noble from another continent. We exchange ideas and bring each other into our diverse worlds, both professionally and culturally.

We truly are Team Noble here. We want our research to deliver solutions to great agricultural challenges, which ultimately is about improving lives. We work together to help producers, and we all have our piece in this mission.

So, if you are into technology and you want to be part of something bigger than yourself, I encourage you to consider joining our cause.

There’s nothing much bigger than helping people take care of the land and feed the world.

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