GOAT:Hack @ USDA ARS 2019


  • To bring together a multidisciplinary cohort of researchers, designers, developers, and agricultural practitioners working on public agricultural technologies.
  • To enable open access to data and tools resulting from public agricultural research.
  • To develop open source technical infrastructure that enables research, adoption, and evaluation of sustainable agricultural practices.

We invite members of the Gathering for Open Ag Tech (GOAT), USDA Agricultural Research Service, informatics researchers, research data scientists, and members of the public to come together and build open agricultural technologies that support our continued transition to sustainable solutions.

When: April 4 & 5, 2019
Where: USDA-ARS Beltsville Agricultural Research Center


The Gathering for Open Ag Tech (GOAT) is an ad-hoc gathering of technologists and agriculturalists to collaborate, and create a vision for a fully open agricultural future. GOAT members endeavor to support ag-related organizations (including ARS) trying to solve technical problems while keeping it free and open.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agency, where we focus on “finding solutions to agricultural problems that affect Americans every day from field to table.” Within USDA-ARS, the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab includes a team of scientists developing technical infrastructure crucial to agricultural research. For example, we are working on farmer-facing decision support tools, designing elements of a data pipeline to enable large-scale participatory research (CROWN project), and geoinformatics tools to improve people’s experience of interfacing with government data, models, tools, and services.

How GOAT:Hack Works


  • Applications closed. You’ll receive an invitation with specific event details.
  • Sign up for the GOAT Forum and post your project and recruit more team members there.
  • For more information contact:
    • Ankita Raturi (USDA ARS): ankita.raturi@ars.usda.gov
    • Brian Davis (USDA ARS & UMD): brianwdavis@gmail.com



  • Show up and hack away!
  • Present to the community.


  • Make a plan to continue work with your project partners.
  • Go home happy and accomplished!


Thursday, April 4
9:00 – 11:00 – Introductions, review of hackathon process, project pitches, group formation, timeline formulation.
11:00 – 6:00 – Work on projects!

Friday, April 5
9:00 – 9:30 – Updates/announcements, quick progress and plan of action reports
9:30 – 3:00 – Work on projects and create presentations
3:00 – 4:00 – Final project presentations
4:00 – 5:00 – coordinate next steps and establish collaboration pathways


How can I participate?

Submit your application here, describing your interest in agriculture and technology. We will review your application, provide feedback, and if all goes well, send an invitation to participate.

What is the expected time commitment?

You get what you put in. A compelling project will require commitment from all team members. We ask that you aim to commit 100% of your time for these two days to the Hackathon. We understand if people need to take a call, attend a meeting, etc., but you probably won’t be successful unless you dedicate most of everyone’s time to working together!

Example projects:

  • Researchers at ARS are involved in a multi-institutional on-farm research project and currently sense and sample soil moisture, cover crop quantity and quality, nitrogen dynamics, and crop population and yield across over 80 farms. What data collection, aggregation, and visualization tools can we develop or connect to enable the modernization of their existing research data pipeline? What are the key elements of a re-configurable agricultural research data pipeline that need to be developed?
  • There are many use cases for open agricultural technologies that require representation of plants: from farmers picking a crop species to plant and tracking a plant as it transform from seed to maturity to researchers managing large breeding projects. However, many tools utilize their own taxonomies, ontologies, vocabularies, etc. Can we develop a plant data service, including an information architecture, to serve up structured plant data?
  • There is a plethora of open agricultural data available, however, it is difficult to know what is available, where to find it, and how to use it. Several initiatives exist to inventory, archive, or serve up open agricultural data. What contributions can we make to these initiatives, from Data.gov to the National Ag Library’s Ag Data Commons? Are there opportunities to develop domain-appropriate APIs to, for instance, NOAA weather data?

Is this mostly hardware, software, or what?
All of the above, but primarily leaning toward the development of information tools. So everything from: new sensors for on-farm data collection, new ways to visualization resource flows, mechanisms to handle data interoperability, to ways to connect existing open source software to support sustainable agricultural practices.

How do teams work?

You should come with an idea and a team (one or many), but it’s completely ok to switch teams, adjust teams, or even adjust whole ideas once you get here. This is a outcome-focused hackathon – we care only that we make the most compelling stuff for the open-agriculture technology community we possibly can! Here is an example hackathon group formation:

  • Problem owner and/or domain expert
  • Designer and/or architect
  • A couple of developers across the stack
  • Maybe a document writers /slide maker / coordinator

I don’t code — what about me?

It completely depends on your project. The goal here is to create something compelling to the community. It is entirely possible to create a compelling data schema, or build out a compelling front-end design for a common application. While coding certainly helps, it is not required. Though, as stated before, you do need to have an idea coming in!

What if I don’t have a team?

If you want to come but don’t have a team or an idea, you are still welcome to apply! You will either join an existing team or form a new one with others, we will help facilitate. Please note that this is a goal-oriented hackathon – we will not have lots of mentors walking around supporting teams, and a lot of the work will be quite focused.

How do I get there?

In general, if you’re far away, fly into either BWI, DCA, or IAD. If you fly into BWI or IAD you’ll need to get a ride to the Beltsville area or hop between a couple of transit options. There is a direct metro from DCA to the Beltsville area. If you’re within 7 – 8 hour drive just drive – the flight + rental may not be worth it.

Where should I stay and get to/from the GOAT:Hack venue?

We recommend staying in Silver Spring, College Park, or Beltsville itself. Your invitation to participate will include a link to a spreadsheet to coordinate housing and rides, as well as a list of recommended places to stay.

What will I eat?

When you submit your application, please include your food restrictions. We will be supplying breakfast & lunch. We can make recommendations for dinner places on the day!

What should I bring?

Bring whatever you need to work on your project, and anything else you think may come up. Definitely a computer, cords, cables for hardware, cool stickers, the usual. If you have a wireless hotspot, you may want to bring one to deal with the traffic. More info will be in your invitation letter 🙂

What about travel reimbursements?

Sorry, we don’t have reimbursements available at this time, but if you need one to come let us know and we’ll keep an eye out for funding.