Enhancing the agri-food data ecosystem: Updates from ADC and the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance

Posted on Friday, December 1st, 2023

Written by Jill Davies, Communications and Marketing Manager

Data icons and connectivity overlay the Ontario Dairy Research Centre dairy barn

Precision agriculture, artificial intelligence and machine learning are generating massive amounts of data across farms, agri-businesses and research labs.

A recent event co-hosted by Agri-food Data Canada (ADC), which is based at the University of Guelph, and the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance brought together experts to share work that will make agri-food research data FAIR – findable, accessible, interoperable (easily combined with other data) and reusable. FAIR data is and will be high quality and useful to producers and researchers, both today and into the future.

Sector impact: The Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance is making it easier to share and reuse high-quality, reliable data that can unlock insights and innovations across the food supply chain.

“ADC’s work is focused on improving data quality, creating policy and being model data stewards,” explained Dr. Michelle Edwards, U of G’s director of agri-food data strategy. “At ADC, we work with individual data producers to make their data is organized, secure and findable.”

About 70 in-person and online participants from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs joined the November event at the Ontario Dairy Research Centre (ODRC) in Elora. They heard from ADC experts about the newest iteration of the Ontario Dairy Research Centre Data Portal and other tools ADC is designing to help make agri-food data FAIR.

Three smiling data professionals posing with a screen with the event name on it
Agri-Food Data Canada’s Dr. Carly Huitema, Dr. Michelle Edwards and Dr. Lucas Alcantara

International collaboration supports home-grown insights

One of these tools was developed in collaboration with the Human Colossus Foundation, a Swiss non-profit organization. Called the Semantic Engine, the tool helps researchers build better documentation or data schemas, which describe the structure of data.

The new tool will be incorporated into the next generation of the Ontario Dairy Research Centre Data Portal, said Dr. Lucas Alcantara, manager of research centre data.

Alcantara has spent the past year building, testing and deploying an innovative agri-food data system that generates, stores and makes available measurements and information from over a dozen data sources in the dairy barn.

Data captured through on-animal sensors and from feeding, milking and ventilation systems is made available via the updated Ontario Dairy Research Centre Data Portal.

Data access portal builds efficiencies, supports innovation

Launched in spring 2023, the updated portal is already making a big difference to researchers, including two investigators who shared its impact with attendees at the November event.

Dr. Catalina A. Wagemann, a veterinarian and PhD student in the Department of Animal Biosciences at U of G, is investigating how to improve management decisions for the health and welfare of dairy cows. She said the portal has helped her in collecting and using research data.

“The platform is very user-friendly. With only a few clicks on the mouse, I can download all the info I need for the cows I need,” Wagemann said. “I don’t have to log into different computers or software. Everything is in one place and we have access to it outside the research centre, which means the data is always accessible. I’m saving so much time.”

Dr. Arnulfo Pineda Baide, a post-doc in the Department of Animal Biosciences, studies nutrition and gut health in dairy cows during the transition period―the three weeks before and after calving. This work involves collecting more than 50 days’ worth of data per cow.

In previous studies at other institutions, Pineda collected data such as body weight, body condition and feed intake by hand.

“Here, I am amazed by the amount of data the farm collects; body weight and body condition score are coordinated by staff,” he said. “The feed intake, we don’t have to do it by hand. It’s automatic.”

Building on success

The early success of the Ontario Dairy Research Centre Data Portal means Alcantara can turn his attention to future possibilities. He is excited by the challenge of replicating the data portal’s success at other research centres that are part of the provincial network owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO): the Ontario Beef Research Centre, Ontario Swine Research Centre and Ontario Aquaculture Research Centre.

“This tool allows us to make simple adjustments to deploy for other research centres,” he said. “The system is flexible and robust.”

“The Alliance is a great force pushing us to get all the data centralized, stored and available. ADC is supporting that development.”

Edwards said the dairy data portal will help in developing a data ecosystem, which is one of the goals of the Alliance-ADC collaboration. “We want to use the dairy portal as an exemplar for any other institution across Canada. Let’s find a way to bring it together and make the ecosystem a reality. It’s part of our vision.”

The Ontario Dairy Research Centre is owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario and managed by the University of Guelph through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, a collaboration between the Government of Ontario and the University of Guelph.

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