Sometimes new technologies can get ahead of basic rules for their management. That was the concern that led the American Farm Bureau Federation and 12 other industry players to come together to create new guidelines for handling farm data. The standards were released late in 2014, and major industry players are already signed on.
Concerns over data ownership were the start of the conversation, and farmers are still concerned about how data might be marketed to third parties in a relationship. But these new guidelines aim to take the guesswork out of that going forward. The first principle outlined is ownership:
“The group believes that farmers own information generated on their farming operations. However, farming is complex and dynamic, and it is the responsibility of the farmer to agree upon data use and sharing with the other stakeholders with an economic interest such as the tenant, landowner, cooperative, owner of the precision agriculture system software and/or agallricultural technology provider [ATP]. The farmer contracting with the ATP is responsible for ensuring that only the data they own or have permission to use is included in the account with the ATP.”
Sounds complicated, but basically it says “read the agreement.” Mary Kay Thatcher, who headed up the Farm Bureau’s effort on this, talks about the next steps now that the guidelines are available: “We’ve sent out a request for a proposal to create an evaluation tool to rate data agreements based on their transparency,” she says. “We hope to have an independent third party assure that agreements are clear and understood by the grower.”
She acknowledges that farmers should be responsible for reading those contracts, but at the end of the day, they can be pretty difficult to read. The aim here is to potentially rate those agreements to provide a sense of the transparency a company offers. “We’re just getting started in that process, so we don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like in the future,” Thatcher says.
Aaron Ault, who heads up the Open Agriculture Data Alliance, sees the value of the new agreement, but he wants to be sure there are no roadblocks to future innovation. “The thing I get concerned about is that a company tries to create an end-all, be-all, one-size-fits-all product, and it destroys the ability to innovate,” he notes.
“Open” is the first word in OADA, and Ault is clear that the future should rely on open platforms that allow innovators to play. “My thoughts on privacy is that it’s extremely important. We don’t want our data used against us,” he says. “If you’re a farmer and you decide to work with a provider that sells data to others, that’s your decision.” He notes that some farmers may not like it, but should understand the agreement.
Case IH, which took a stand on data ownership during the Farm Progress Show — “My data is mine, not mined” — will stick to that approach. A signatory to the new Farm Bureau guidelines, Trevor Mecham, who heads up the data side at the firm, says “it’s about showing the openness of that data and the terms and conditions of the agreement you’re signing. For CNH Industrial, it’s the customer’s data.”
Farmers using Case IH equipment may have machine data aggregated so the company can evaluate equipment performance, but Meacham notes that the company looks at no other data gathered at the machine, including yield data.
Going forward, the new industry guidelines offer you help in evaluating agreements with anyone who works with your data. New technology always brings along other issues that need to be managed. It’s an ongoing conversation.
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