SAS teams with Microsoft to help NC State tackle food recalls

This April 12, 2016 file photo shows the Microsoft logo. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

CARY —  As the global population skyrockets, there is an urgent need to discover new ways to produce healthy, safe and sustainable food. To help address this growing food security problem, SAS announced a new partnership with Microsoft to support critical agricultural research from the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative (NC PSI) at North Carolina State University. The initiative will combine analytic and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies from both companies.

In a press statement announcing the arrangement, officials cited the impacts of climate change, a rapidly growing population and emerging crop diseases and pests as leading causes of a projected shortage in production of a sustainable food supply. This collaboration will combine the expertise of two leading technology providers with a leader in agricultural research, allowing students, agronomists, growers and business leaders to better understand and address this critical issue. IoT technology from Microsoft FarmBeats will stream real-time agricultural data in Microsoft Azure, while SAS® Analytics will analyze the data, providing insights to researchers from NC PSI.

“To double food production by the year 2050, farmers need real-time information to make better decisions on what to plant and when to apply nutrients, water, pest and weed control measures,” said Richard Linton, Dean of NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. «This is a key focus for researchers at NC PSI – to not only collect large amounts of crop and environmental data but to translate it into immediately accessible intelligence to improve harvest outcomes and agricultural sustainability. This collaboration between NC State, SAS and Microsoft represents a quantum step forward in advancing innovation in data-driven plant science.”

This collaboration between NC State, SAS and Microsoft represents a quantum step forward in advancing innovation in data-driven plant science.”

Richard Linton, Dean of NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

SAS officials say that the collaboration is especially meaningful to their company, which started as a result of an agricultural data analysis project at NC State. “By giving NC State students the opportunity to work with SAS and Microsoft, we will help the next generation of technical talent grow their skills and expand their career opportunities, while accelerating precision agriculture and improving efforts to safely feed a growing population,» said Oliver Schabenberger, SAS Chief Technology Officer and Chief Operating Officer. 

The food industry and the agricultural economy are often massively affected by recalls stemming from the detection of contamination in food. In the US alone, foodborne pathogens are estimated to be responsible for almost 10 million cases of illness and 56,000 hospitalizations annually. Automated surveillance and early detection are critical in the fight against disease and foodborne contamination and can also reduce the preventative use of pesticides and fungicides, which can be costly and cause environmental damage.

“Microsoft is committed to help accelerate agricultural research at NC State by combining our Azure high-performance and AI capabilities with SAS› analytics,» said Jamie Harper, Vice President of Education at Microsoft.

This collaboration builds on SAS and Microsoft’s recent announcement, which explores new ways to jointly bring to market AI and analytics solutions that combine both companies’ offerings to help their mutual customers accelerate innovation and transformation. It is also an extension of SAS’ partnership with NC PSI, which aims to help enhance agricultural research and talent development.