Microsoft and USDA are partnering on a new contest called the "Innovation Challenge," that invites creative minds to develop applications that analyze data related to the U.S. food supply and production as well as climate change.
The apps will analyze USDA's data, including sets hosted on Microsoft's cloud-computing platform, Microsoft Azure.
The contest is designed to explore how climate change will impact the United States' food system with the intent of achieving better food resiliency.
"For more than 100 years, USDA has compiled data from economic reports and farm production surveys, and more recently from satellite imagery and remote sensors that can provide information on the health of crops around the country," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
"Through this partnership with Microsoft, we are now putting that data into the hands of people who can help us derive new insights to address factors that threaten our ability to feed a growing global population."
For the first time, key USDA data sets are being made available in the "cloud," where they can be accessed and blended with other data to create new insight or used in new apps.
Combining USDA data with cloud-computing resources allows complex models to be processed faster. Results can be delivered to remote users on their laptops, tablets or mobile phones.
The challenge offers $60,000 in prizes, including a top prize of $25,000, for applications that make use of the USDA data and provide actionable insights to farmers, agriculture businesses, scientists or consumers.
In addition, Microsoft is granting cloud-computing awards to aid university researchers and students who wish to take part in the challenge. The deadline for entries is November 20, 2015.
Winners will be announced in December 2015.
How advanced data helps
The increased availability of data from satellite imagery, remote sensors, surveys and economic reports mean that researchers and others can analyze, model and predict factors associated with food production.
Applications might combine data from the USDA and other government sources, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or the United States Geological Survey, and can be targeted at farmers, scientists, food producers, insurance companies or consumers.
"Microsoft and the USDA seek to catalyze the creativity of others and hope that the challenge will provide a great incentive for developers and researchers interested in data science to put together some great applications helping address the USA's food resiliency needs," said Deputy Managing Director of Microsoft Research, Dr. Daron Green.
Microsoft will promote the challenge at the 2015 meeting of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association.