Technology is changing the face of agriculture and Brittany Dahl, a Thought For Food Ambassador from Australia, is helping to lead that change.
Brittany is a geographic information systems (GIS) specialist. She explains that, “most people use GIS everyday without even realizing it! Applications such as Uber, Google Maps, even the location services on our phone, all use a form of GIS technology. A GIS lets us visualize, question, analyze, and interpret geographic data through a digital mapping platform.”
Brittany’s passion is combing GIS technologies with sustainable food systems, and she is excited to see how the agricultural community continues to embrace this powerful tool. She shared her story with TFF, which you can read below.
If you are interested in learning more about GIS, contact Brittany at email@example.com. Her company, Esri, even offers a free, 3-year program for any startup that wishes to have access to their GIS software!
by Brittany Dahl
I grew up in a beautiful neighborhood in Canberra, Australia, and was lucky enough to admire gum trees and the natural beauty of the city from my bedroom window. Growing up, I remember listening to stories from my grandparents about the dairy farm they used to run, and my mother continued their agricultural past with her own backyard vegetable garden. I fondly remember afternoons spent watering the plants with her.
Most of my passion for food comes from my mother. She set up our household with an efficient anti-food waste system, where any vegetable scraps were sent to the compost, meat scraps were eaten by our pet cat, and lastly, but most importantly, I was made to eat everything on my plate. Being an avid health-nut, she would cook every night, and made us value good food.
When I left for university I began studying for a degree focused on geography and sustainability, no doubt influenced by my childhood upbringing. During my second year of study I decided to take a sustainable agriculture course which was based around understanding sustainable management techniques in Australian agriculture through hands-on field trips. Each field trip covered a different type of farming system, and gave real-world experiences in organic farming, rotational grazing, farm field restoration, and irrigation. This course taught me about the importance of soil health, how to read a landscape, and how to understand what agricultural practice each piece of the land was capable of sustaining. It was the first time I got to meet farmers, understand their issues and decisions, and get my hands dirty testing soil!
Brittany, sixth from front left, on a Youth Ag Summit field trip.
The major assessment for the course focused around classifying soil and determining the land capability of a whole farm. Around this time, I also was taking a course on geographic information systems (GIS) which included digitally mapping soil. I found it easy to tie the two courses together, and this became the focus for my Honors thesis a year later.
Around the time of my “ag-enlightenment” in university, I saw a post on Facebook to apply for the Global Youth Agriculture Summit (YAS). To apply I needed to write an essay, which I (naturally) wrote on using GIS to help combat the issue of global food insecurity. After securing a spot in the YAS 2015 summit, and having a blast meeting new individuals from around the world who wanted to solve global food security, I realized that I wanted to continue to be involved in this space.
At YAS I meet Edward Silva, TFF’s past Executive Director, who told us all about the TFF Challenge. I participated in the TFF Challenge, and was selected by the YAS founders (Bayer) to attend the TFF Summit in 2016 as a YAS ambassador. You can read about my impressions of the Summit in Zurich here.
My experience at the TFF Summit was like a hyperactive joyride that only increased my desire to be an ‘ag-vocate’ and do more in the foodtech space, starting within my own local community. After TFF I attended multiple other conferences in Australia and began volunteering for multiple “profit-for-purpose” organizations, such as my local Conservation Council, and an organization called the Fair Food Forager. What resulted was a deep knowledge of my local food environment, and various platforms to discuss solutions for the future. I used this knowledge in my Honors thesis to discuss consumer attitudes on food access and purchasing behavior in my local city. To this day I continue to blog and am a TFF Ambassador because I truly believe that the TFF Challenge and Summit is life changing!
My experience at the TFF Summit was like a hyperactive joyride that only increased my desire to be an ‘ag-vocate’ and do more in the food tech space, starting within my own local community.
Focusing on GIS
After university I had a few casual GIS jobs tutoring and collecting data, which led me to securing a position at Esri Australia as a GIS Consultant. In this role am I responsible for delivering training courses in ArcGIS software. When courses aren’t running I am on the Australian support help desk — helping any of our customers with their GIS problems. Esri encourages continuous learning, and I write posts on our technical blog here.
I have quickly come to realize that most people use GIS everyday without even realizing it! Applications such as Uber, Google Maps, even the location services on our phone, all use a form of GIS technology. A GIS lets us visualize, question, analyze, and interpret geographic data through a digital mapping platform. The data usually involves location and contextual information, allowing us to understand not just where something is, but model relationships, patterns, and trends. With GIS you can find the best locations and paths, detect and quantify resources, and make future predictions that can feed directly into decision making.
GIS lets us visualize, question, analyze, and interpret geographic data through a digital mapping platform.
In regards to agriculture, GIS is an integral part of taking the guesswork out of farming, and managing land and food more sustainably. Most notable is the role of GIS in precision agriculture. GIS is used to monitor and maximize the suitability, health, and yield of crops, as well as system inputs and pest control. GIS is the reason driverless GPS-based tractors exist — we wouldn’t be able to follow their position otherwise! GIS can also be used for controlling field operations, managing risk (including natural disasters), gathering real-time data, and even analyzing social and consumer patterns.
With the boom of mobile and web-GIS, GIS is being used for more than just farm-based practices. The ability to share and distribute information through phone apps has allowed for a new age of social and community mapping, focused around the individual’s experience, either with agricultural or food purchases. Like Uber, food/ag based mobile GIS has the ability to be disruptive — I think new apps can directly influence local markets through a platform accessible to anyone with a phone and internet. The future is bright for anyone innovating with GIS in the food/ag space.
If you are interested in or using GIS, my workplace offers a free, 3-year program for any startup that wishes to have access to our GIS software. As long as you plan to use a mapping-based platform, application or location analytics capabilities into your products, you can receive our online services, software, training and support, content, and other opportunities to help you succeed. Visit the “training” section for free online lessons to help you get started. More online tutorials can be found here.
If you need help or advice with a GIS problem, potential app idea, or just love GIS — feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My best advise is to not be afraid of apply for competitions or opportunities that might come your way! You never know where the Youth Ag Summit or Thought For Food Challenge will take you!