Microsoft Research Blog

The Microsoft Research blog provides in-depth views and perspectives from our researchers, scientists and engineers, plus information about noteworthy events and conferences, scholarships, and fellowships designed for academic and scientific communities.

Announcing the USDA-Microsoft Innovation Challenge awardees

January 27, 2016 | By Microsoft blog editor

By Daron Green, Deputy Managing Director, Microsoft Research

USDA Innovation Challenge for Food Resilience Awardees

Today, the USDA and Microsoft announced the winners of the Innovation Challenge.

The Innovation Challenge was created in July 2015 to support President Obama’s Climate Data Initiative, which aims to harness climate data to increase the resilience of the American food system and foster innovation which will help prepare communities and businesses across the United States for the impacts of climate change.

In response to the President’s call for “all hands on deck,” the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) partnered with Microsoft to explore the impacts of climate change on the U.S. food system and spur innovation to help increase food resiliency. The challenge invited entrants to develop and publish new applications and tools that analyze multiple sources of information about the nation’s food supply, including key USDA data sets that are now hosted on Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform.

Today, the winners of the challenge received over $60,000 in prizes, including a top prize of $25,000, for applications that make use of USDA data and can provide useful information to farmers, agriculture businesses, and consumers.

The finalists were selected from more than 346 registrants and 33 submissions, each of which made use of the Microsoft Farm Data Dashboard, a Microsoft Azure reporting service that was created for the Innovation Challenge. The dashboard provides an instant overview across complex USDA datasets on farms and crops, helping inform researchers so they are better able to build applications that streamline productivity and strengthen the nation’s food systems.

Award recipients and their projects are listed below.

Farm Plenty | Grand Prize, Open Source Application Award, and Best Visualization in Time or Space Award recipient

Farm Plenty is an easy and innovative way for farmers to explore USDA statistical data about the most important crops grown in their area. The interface of this application shows the farm location on an aerial image; the crops grown within 5 kilometers of the farm are obtained from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) CropScape database. Economic data about these crops through time are extracted from Economic Research Service’ (ERS) and Agricultural Research Management Survey (ARMS) databases to allow a farmer to make informed decisions about crop choice.

Submitted by George Lee

Green Pastures | Second Prize, Open Source Application Award recipient

Green Pastures is a comprehensive dashboard interface that allows a farmer to visualize production, economic, livestock, and commodity data from NASS, ERS, ARMS, and other sources at scales from national to local, including information on farmers’ markets. This rich assortment of graphs and maps allows diverse users to access these data for multiple purposes.

Submitted by Khyati Majmudar

What’s Local | Third Prize recipient

What’s Local provides an analysis of the resources that are required to produce agricultural outputs by using data from the Census of Agriculture as a novel approach for a dialogue between urban population centers to connect with farmers in their area.

Submitted by Benjamin Wellington, Eric Roy, and Matthew Seibert of Landscape Metrics LLC

Farm Profit Calculator | Honorable Mention, Open Source Application Award, and Best Student-Made Award

Farm Profit Calculator is a mobile phone application that gives farmers a way to compare their input costs (fertilizer, seed, fuel, etc.) to regional averages. Students with backgrounds in agronomy, statistics, and computer programing developed this app with hopes of helping farmers find financial efficiencies on their operations and target areas where their costs are above the norm.

Submitted by Fernando Napier and Matt Pedersen

Croptrends | Honorable Mention recipient

Croptrends is a useful tool for viewing spatial and temporal trends in crop production and yield by county for the entire United States by using NASS data.

Submitted by Chaiyawut Lertvichaivoravit and Ta Chiraphadhanakul

VAIS | Popular Choice Award recipient

VAIS is a unique approach to visualize crowdsourced pricing data with the NASS data for the entire United States.

Submitted by Ken Moini


Farmed | Large Organization Recognition Award recipient

Farmed allows farmers to view crop condition in their area by using VegScape data from NASS combined with local weather data.

Submitted by Bryan Tower

Learn More

Up Next

Artificial intelligence, Ecology and environment, Human-computer interaction, Security, privacy, and cryptography

Internships Ahoy! with Kirsten Bray, Wei Dai and Sara Beery

Episode 42, September 19, 2018 - On today’s podcast, you’ll hear the stories of three of these interns, each of whom came to Microsoft Research from a different field, with a different story and a different perspective, but all of whom share MSR’s passion for finding innovative solutions to the world’s toughest challenges.

Microsoft blog editor

Artificial intelligence, Computer vision, Data platforms and analytics, Ecology and environment, Hardware and devices, Human-computer interaction, Programming languages and software engineering, Security, privacy, and cryptography

Give your dissertation a boost with a grant from Microsoft Research

Need funding to clear a hurdle in the final stages of your dissertation research? Microsoft Research is offering grants of up to US $25,000 to help a select group of doctoral students cross the finish line and enter the workforce. The Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant is for PhD students at U.S. and Canadian universities from […]

Meredith Ringel Morris

Principal Researcher and Research Manager

NSF Big Data Innovation Hubs collaboration

Artificial intelligence, Data platforms and analytics, Ecology and environment, Medical, health and genomics

NSF Big Data Innovation Hubs collaboration — looking back after one year

By Vani Mandava, Director, Data Science Significant technical advancements in cloud computing have led to lower infrastructure costs, making possible big storage and big computing. Big data technology, though, requires cross-discipline research within and beyond non-computing domains. This is where domain experts collaborate with computing teams, industry, and government agencies to discover new insights that […]

Microsoft blog editor