AS THE WHEELS came down on my cross-country flight, I prepared for our landing at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Looking out the window, I could see the sprawl of Silicon Valley, the East Bay, and in the distance, the San Francisco skyline. It is hard to believe that I was here to explore agriculture in 2013, given that what I could see from the plane was mostly concrete, highways, and heavy construction.

Not too many miles away from SFO, I began to wind through the tight curves of back roads, making my way to the headquarters of a major agricultural producer. While I had never visited this company before, I had the opportunity to sit down with the executive team to explore the topic of big data in farming and agriculture.

I embraced the calm and serene scene, a far cry from the vibrancy of San Francisco and the rush of Silicon Valley. As we entered a conference room, the discussion turned to produce, as I asked, “Why is it that the strawberries that I bought last week taste so much better than the ones I bought the week before?” While I posed the question as a conversation starter, it became the crux of our discussion.

It seems that quality — and, more specifically, consistency of quality — is the foremost issue on the mind of major producers. I asked about the exquisite quality of produce in Japan. The executive team quickly noted that Japan achieves quality at the price of waste. Said another way, they keep ...

Get Big Data Revolution now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.