The UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) collects a substantial amount of environmental data on topics from animal and plant health, to farming and biosecurity. Making this information resource more accessible, the agency believes, will be a critical unlock to achieving its strategic objective to help government, the commercial sector and others meet targets to protect and improve environmental health. By sharing its data, Defra hopes to provide stakeholders with evidence monitoring changes and informing future decision-making. Better data, Defra believes, will result in better decisions.
The government body therefore wants to ‘modernise its data sharing services platform’ and ‘expand the usability of our data across the government and the public data marketplace’, explained Chris Howes, Chief Digital Technology Officer at Defra. To this end, the department has partnered with Telespazio UK and Agrimetrics on its new Data Services Platform (DS3) project.
“What’s driving this is the Government’s 25-year environmental programme,” explained Rebecca Geraghty the Chief Commercial Officer Agrimetrics, a start-up that has developed an enterprise grade Data Marketplace for the UK agri-food sector. “They want the industry to use data to innovate more… It is about unearthing data across government and making it publicly available.”
A ‘next generation evolution’ of data services
Launched in 2021, the 25-year plan sets out goals to improve water and air quality as well as biodiversity ‘within a generation’. The initiative also touches on the need to reduce the risk of harm from environmental hazards and exposure to chemicals, use resources more ‘sustainability and efficiently’, adopt climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, and enhance biosecurity.
Together, Telespazio UK and Agrimetrics will provide a ‘next generation evolution’ of the Data Services Platform. The project builds on Defra’s current Data Services Platform (DSP), which serves 650 Defra Group partners, 300 contracting entities, about 13,000 individual users, and supported 1.8 billion Application Programming Interface calls in 2019-2021.
DSP3 will utilise the power of linked data to enable users and consumers to access and understand data from the entire platform in a manner that fits their use case, Defra explained. This will ensure that all Defra data is ‘truly discoverable and accessible’, enhancing the utilisation and social value delivered.
“The Defra Data Services Platform is a five-plus years contract, that will see 4,500 environmental data sets made available – looking at metrics from water, habitats and trees to marine and coastal health. The focus is on presenting it in a way that businesses will be able to effectively leverage as they innovate to develop more environmentally sustainable supply food and agri supply chains,” explained Geraghty. “They’ve really thought through the different users and the journeys they are on… The user-centric design is going to be core in how we innovate and build new applications.”
‘It’s what we call critical infrastructure’: How data can support environmental objectives
This user-centric approach to data delivery will enable the platform to support businesses as they look to scale their environmental initiatives, the digital expert continued. “We’re really passionate about [the project]. It is what we call critical infrastructure because it is going to be key for businesses to make the step-change we all want to make in environmental impact. Working with small to large businesses, supporting inclusivity, and making sure they know this service is available is part of our role.”
The first stage of DSP3 will go live at the end of June. DSP3 will exploit the existing Agrimetrics Data Marketplace platform to enable greater interoperability with other platforms and services to expand the use of data and evolution of technical services. According to Geraghty, the work shows how stakeholders have increasingly come to view data-driven insight as vital to business and environmental performance. “The project with Defra is a great opportunity. I’m also excited by the number and variety of companies that want to innovate with environmental data. It’s a really healthy sector,” she told FoodNavigator.
This is because the benefits of data-sharing are becoming increasingly understood, according to the Agrimetrics commercial lead. “We are facing some significant challenges: environmental impacts, lower availability of inputs, pests and diseases. We think data and data driven technology can help find solutions.”
Alongside technological advances, she expects both business targets and a tightening regulatory environment to accelerate the adoption of new approaches to environmental data. “Both sustainability and cost management are top of mind for businesses. There is also growing pressure to share financial data from regulators. There are new regulations being introduced at a European or global level to increase transparency,” she said, pointing to initiatives like the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures as one example of how this trend is playing out. “Businesses are going to have to prove their environmental impact.”