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Innovation Challenge for Food Resilience

Microsoft Azure for Research Award program

Innovation Challenge for Food ResilienceSponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Microsoft, the Innovation Challenge for Food Reslience invites the public and private sectors to address questions pertinent to the impact of climate change on the US food supply. The Innovation Challenge invites entrants to develop and publish new applications and tools that can analyze multiple sources of information about the nation’s food supply, including key USDA datasets that are now hosted on Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform.

The challenge offers prizes—including a top prize of US$25,000—for applications that make use of the USDA data and provide actionable insights to farmers, agriculture businesses, scientists or consumers across the United States so that they can plan for current and future climate changes. In addition, through the Microsoft Azure for Research program, Microsoft is granting hours of cloud computing time and terabytes of cloud storage to be used to aid university researchers and students who wish to take part in the challenge.

This challenge supports the White House Climate Data Initiative’s goals of preparedness for and resilience to climate change impacts.

Important dates

  • Proposal submission deadline: November 20, 2015
  • Winners will be announced: December 2015.

Participant instructions

  • For all participants, visit the Innovation Challenge website to take part in the challenge. All entries are due by November 20, 2015.
  • If you are a university researcher or student and would like to apply for Azure resources to support your participation in the Innovation Challenge, provide a simple proposal that states the intent of the project and an outline for how your project will use the Azure resources. Please note the following application requirements:
    • Length: Your proposal should be no longer than three pages.
    • Title: The first word in your proposal title must be “Agriculture” to ensure that your proposal is considered for this award.
    • Submission: Use the online application form to submit your proposal. We must receive your submission before November 20, 2015.

Find answers to questions about submitting Azure for Research proposals in our proposal process FAQ.

USDA datasets

The USDA has made the following datasets available both directly from and, during the Innovation Challenge, through the Farm Data Dashboard, a portal hosted on Azure.

  • NASS Quickstats API
    The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) offers the Quick Stats application programming interface (API) that provides direct access to a database containing official published aggregate estimates related to U.S. agricultural production. It includes hundreds of sample surveys covering virtually every aspect of U.S. agriculture and providing state- and county-level aggregates: Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS).
  • ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices
    The field-level phase collects information on production practices and costs (such as fertilizer, pesticide, labor, tillage, and seed) for target commodities. The farm-level phase collects financial information for farm businesses and a variety of financial and demographic information (such as age, education, occupation, off-farm income) for farm operators and their households. The survey collects information from 48 states. It is designed to provide representative data of the continental United States and to support state-level estimates for 15 key agricultural states.

In addition, the following datasets are available for research purposes from the USDA.

  • NASS CropScape API
    The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) offers a CropScape API that provides direct access to a raster image dataset containing an agricultural-specific land cover classification published once annually at the end of growing season. Resolution is 30 to 56 m. APIs are also published for political/administrative boundary layers.
  • NASS VegScape API
    The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) offers the VegScape API that provides direct access to a raster image dataset containing crop condition vegetation indices published on daily, weekly, and biweekly timescales throughout the year. Resolution is 250m. There are five published indices: NDVI, VCI, RVCI, RMVCI, and MVCI. APIs are also published for political/administrative boundary layers.

Use the Farm Data Dashboard to access the datasets in the cloud via Azure.

  • Farm Data Dashboard
    This Microsoft Azure Machine Learning (ML) reporting service offers a simple interface that provides an instant overview across several complex datasets on farms and crops. Microsoft’s Farm Data Dashboard is one of several ways that Microsoft cloud products and machine learning capabilities are making the USDA’s data accessible to external developers to help them build applications and services that strengthen and streamline the nation’s food systems.