Perspectives from ISB

I read with great interest today’s article in the New York Times on one farmer’s crusade to demonstrate that one must know one’s land to get better yield. I was really attracted with the following words:

‘Thompson said, “Get along, but don’t go along.” He refused to believe that chemicals (and government subsidies, which he eschewed) could solve every problem that confronted them.’

Lone farmers have been experimenting on their farms for hundreds of years. However, the practical wisdom is passed only by word of mouth. As families grow and ownership changes the wisdom is soon lost and new cycles of trials begin.

One challenge to the big data community is to capture this experience and make it usable to individuals and policy makers. Given the latest fad related to me by Bharat Ramaswami of ISI of switching to bio-fuel, the world may face a shortage of food  within a few decades. The temptation to switch is driven by the desire to profit from the land. But the base case for land use has to be made using micro-level data which we could be gathering right now.