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Success Stories: George Lee, USDA Innovation Challenge

MEET: George Lee, chief technology officer and co-founder of livestock grazing management software company PastureMap, San Mateo, California

THE CHALLENGE: The USDA Innovation Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Launched in July 2015, this challenge sought the development of apps to put USDA data into the hands of farmers, researchers, and consumers to help build a more sustainable U.S. food system. Winners were announced in January 2016.

THE PRIZE: $29,500 for winning the grand prize, open-source application, and best visualization in time and space awards

THE SOLUTION: FarmPlenty Local Crop Trends is an easy and innovative way for farmers to explore USDA statistical data about the most important crops grown in their area. The application interface shows the farm location on an aerial image; the crops grown within five miles of the farm are obtained from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service CropScape database. Economic data about these crops through time are extracted from Economic Research Service and Agricultural Research Management Survey databases to allow a farmer to make informed decisions about crop choice.

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IN HIS OWN WORDS…

WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF YOUR SOLUTION FOR FARMERS AND THE AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY?

I’ve talked to many farmers and ranchers and learned how hard it can be for them to make a living. Farmers have to deal with unpredictable weather, changing consumer demand, and endless pests and weeds. And while they are struggling to stay in business, they also have to take good care of the land and soil for future generations. USDA has a wealth of data on crops and prices that can help farmers. The challenge is making it relevant for their own local circumstances.

I decided to use my own extensive experience in data analysis and app development to create a better way for farmers to visualize the crop and price information most important to them. Showing all this information on a map makes it easy to browse and understand.

HOW HAS PARTICIPATING IN THIS CHALLENGE HELPED YOU ADVANCE YOUR WORK?

Participating in this challenge and creating FarmPlenty Local Crop Trends opened my eyes to the wealth of data available to farmers and ranchers and the potential for technology to transform our food system for the better. I went on to meet Christine Su and we teamed up to create PastureMap, a technology company that empowers farmers and ranchers to be more profitable while building healthy grasslands.

PastureMap incorporates some of the same technology used in the FarmPlenty app and both apps help farmers visualize data on a map. PastureMap goes much further, however, and lets ranchers record geotagged data in the field about their pastures, animals, and herd movements. We then combine this information with rainfall data and soil maps to provide additional insights that help them better manage their ranch to increase profits and improve ecological function.

STATUS / WHAT’S NEXT?

PastureMap helps ranch managers save time, make better decisions, and make the most out of their cattle and grass operations. Grasslands are one-third of the world’s land mass and represent a tremendous opportunity to store carbon in the soil while supporting a better food system. We’re also aggregating ranchers and using their collective power to shift the beef supply chain away from the commodity model, towards giving consumers what they want — healthy meat that’s raised with integrity and good for the planet. Our user community now includes more than 7,500 ranchers in over 36 countries. We are excited to continue developing the technology platform to support innovative farmers and ranchers to create a better food system.

Learn more at http://pasturemap.com.

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Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s Challenge.gov program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. Nearly 800 competitions have been listed on Challenge.gov, where citizens can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.

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