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Digging in to new data coalition deal

Merger of Ag Data Coalition and the Growers Information Services Cooperative creates new way for farmers to store, protect farm-generated information.

You know the drill. You have a combine that's one color, tractors of another color and a planter that's an even different color. For whatever reason, this rainbow equipment lineup on your farm works for you, but in these days of data collection and intense information management, rainbows aren't so pretty.

Each of those machines connects to a cloud, but those individual clouds don't talk with each other. How do you get all your information into one place where you can use it to manage your farm? Turns out there's a potential new solution in the works that should be available soon.

Last year, several companies and universities came together to form the Agricultural Data Coalition, with the express purpose of creating a kind of data drop box where farmers could save their information from a variety of sources. At the time, the idea was in its infancy, but there was significant interest because of the "rainbow" challenge, and concerns of farmer data ownership. And ADC started its work on a new system for pulling in data from a range of brands.

In 2012, the Grower Information Services Cooperative was formed as data warehouse and data sharing cooperative. Over time the group built its own data sharing platform called AgXchange which was designed as an open, central point of access. "We're a cooperative," says Jason Ward, CEO of GISC. "We're farmer-owned and we have a high level of trust with our members."

Recently, GISC and ADC got together to create a merged entity their calling GADC - the Growers Ag Data Cooperative - and the new platform will be AgXchange. "We have two separate systems right now," Ward says. "We're about 90 days out for bringing the two together. We're looking at early summer."

Farm Industry News got a chance to sit down with Ward along with Ben Craker, president of ADC, and Jon Fulton, extension ag engineering specialist and precision ag expert, Ohio State University, to discuss the new deal. Craker is also, manager, ag technology solutions global partnerships and standards with Agco.

Cooperative approach

Originally, ADC was to be a kind of data cooperative, and a pilot data warehouse has been built. The 14 founding companies of the coalition included Agco, Agri-AFC, American Farm Bureau Federation, Auburn University, CNH Industrial, Crop IMS, Ice Miller LLP, Iowa AgState, Ohio State University, Purdue University, Mississippi State University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Raven Industries and Topcon Positioning Group.

The original group was set up as a non-profit with the sole purpose of providing a farmer-controlled location for storing equipment-gathered data from any brand. The system is already built to take information from major equipment makers with application program interface tools to connect and bring data in. For example, an Agco Fuse user can have equipment-generated data pushed to the ADC data store - or at least that was the plan. The ADC program was still in pilot mode.

"In 2016, Ohio State University was part of the pilot for the system," says Fulton. "This system allows a farmer to share information with a range of people."

With GADC, the creation of this data warehouse, or bucket, becomes a tool for the farmer. A user of any brand will eventually be able to transmit information from machines into the system. For participants AgXchange would become your long-term data storage tool collecting information from all the related devices - combine, planter, sprayer, scouts and more. If the system doesn't have a matching API, you can still send information by taking the memory stick from the machine and loading it through the desktop.

But what's the point? For that rainbow equipment owner, there's now a central place for all your information. From AgXchange you can move information into your favorite farm management information system. Perhaps your accounting program can turn application files into profit maps for your field; or your agronomist can take the information and create useful prescriptions that can then go back to the right machine.

While not all the moving parts are at work yet, a lot has been done with this system so far. The cooperative approach may appeal to many. Ward notes that farmers are owners of the cooperative and in the end the controllers of their own data.

With its history and university connections, the new AgXchange has another interesting feature. Fulton explains that if he were doing research on a problem - nitrogen movement down the Mississippi; or planter efficiency analysis - he would need data. With GADC and its non-profit members, he can reach out to those in the system and ask if they want to share their data for his research.

"The request would come up on his computer explaining what I was going to do with the information, and if he says 'yes' the information I was seeking would come to me," he says. He notes this is anonymized data without specific farmer information attached. "Yet we can get access to good in-field data. However, the farmer has to want to participate."

Fulton notes that 65% of farmers are sitting on the sidelines as the Big Data movement progresses. He thinks those farmers are missing out on ways to get more efficient and make better decisions on the farm. With GADC, it's a way for a farmer to better manage data for the future, and it will play well with Climate View, John Deere, Case IH, Agco and more. The idea is to make data management easier in the long run.

Concludes ADC CEO Craker: "This is the first time that a farmers data can all be in one spot. This is a neutral platform for the grower to control how their data is shared."

The two groups are still coming together. In the meantime, growers interested in learning more about data collection should visit gisc.coop, and organizations interested in joining ADC’s efforts, should visit agdatacoalition.org.

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