Melons are big, heavy fruits. They are also fragile. Their growth is influenced by variable, hard-to-predict weather factors and farmers depend on retailers selling their product before it goes bad.

That’s why one Nova Scotia melon grower has turned to the Acadia Institute for Data Analytics (AIDA) at Wolfville’s Acadia University to help him optimize his yield of cantaloupes.

AIDA got started in January under Director Danny Silver, as part of the Acadia Entrepreneurship Centre’s Incubation and Innovation Services unit -- a group that works hard to promote entrepreneurship in rural communities.

The melon farmer approached Silver after attending AIDA’s inaugural event in March.

Speakers at the event, titled Data Analytics for the Wine and Fruit Growing Industries, discussed how to use data to combat issues such as climate change’s impact on Ontario’s wine industry and plant cancer on Nova Scotia grapes.

“Data analytics is good business,” explained Silver as he sat in the airy, newly renovated attic of Acadia’s Patterson Hall. “It allows you to put up your periscope and look ahead.”

The fledgling institute will work with many academic and industry partners and is already partnering with Scotia Weather Services; a private meteorological company that provides micro forecasting down to 15 minute intervals and four square kilometres.

Such detailed forecasting is very valuable to the melon grower, who last year missed the market after changing weather meant he only harvested 50 per cent of his crop.

“We have to be specific to create prediction models for precision agriculture, which is the combination of data analytics with agriculture,” said Silver, who grew up in the Annapolis Valley, working in the fields as a youngster.

Other techniques that can improve crop analysis include placing cameras in fields to record activities such as spraying, and using drones to reveal where in a field a crop might be failing.

Silver said he is pleased that after less than a year of operation, AIDA already has five active projects and seven potential.

AIDA’s objectives include stimulating technology transfer, commercialization and the development of new startups, and Silver said, “It would be great” to see analytic companies working in this space.

Silver is also a professor at Acadia’s Jodrey School of Computer Science and he is working with the computer science and math departments on establishing a certificate in data analytics.

In the fall, several big events will be held to make sure the academic and agricultural communities understand AIDA and the business potential of data analytics.

“We’ll be offering a data analysis 101 primer for people on campus and then we’ll take it to the public, to those in industry who want to learn about it, such as agriculturalists, environmentalists and conservationists,” said Silver.

“The population is growing, we have less land available and we need to grow more on smaller parcels of land,” he added. “We need to do this kind of data analytics across the planet or we’re not going to feed us all.”



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