USDA Teams Up with Microsoft on Food Data Challenge

Aleksandar Dickov/

The newly launched Innovation Challenge aims to inspire the public to create tech tools for analyzing food supply data.

The Agriculture Department wants the country’s food supply prepared for any curves climate change might throw its way, so it has reached out to the public for ideas as part of a $60,000 "innovation challenge." 

Launched Friday, the competition is meant to spur the creation of tech tools for analyzing a wide array of food supply data from USDA and other agencies, according to a release from USDA.

By diving deep into these data sets, the tools could help solve such complex queries as: How can the country still transport food if the 2,350 mile-long Mississippi River no longer contains water? 

The competition is a joint project between USDA and Microsoft.

"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," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

USDA alone has over 100 years of data on everything from crop production to population demographics, which come from economic reports, farm production surveys, remote sensors and satellite imagery.

The tech tools will be judged based on their ability to ingest data and produce valuable information for farmers, scientists and consumers. Tools will also get points for creativity. The top prizewinner will go home with a $25,000 award. Overall, the challenge will pay out $60,000 in prizes. 

This is the first time the agency is making its piles of data sets available to the public through Microsoft's public cloud, Azure. 

USDA and Microsoft came together for President Barack Obama’s Climate Data Initiative as well as a push for tech and agricultural leaders to develop programs to help ensure food system resilience, according to the agency press release.

Entries are due by Nov. 20. Winners will be announced in December.

(Image via Aleksandar Dickov/