The information farmers capture with every field activity continues to grow Key groups are working on hotbutton issues like data privacy and data sharing systems Melissa Landgraf and GiGra/iStock/Thinkstock

The information farmers capture with every field activity continues to grow. Key groups are working on hot-button issues like data privacy, and data sharing systems.

Groups gearing up with data help

A range of organizations are at work to help farmers take control of this new on-farm tool.

Farmers will soon have better access and control of their data as well as seamless sharing of information between hardware and software systems. That’s thanks to the work of four groups that are improving farmers’ data control, privacy and interoperability.

That progress has been a long time coming, says Indiana farmer Aaron Ault. In addition to full-time farming, he’s a senior computer research engineer at Purdue University, where he leads the Open Ag Data Alliance.

Compared to other industries, agriculture has lagged in having open-source software that’s freely available - and that’s held back practical uses on the farm, Ault says.

“If you look at the agriculture space, that’s one thing that’s conspicuously absent,” he says. “If you want to do something with data - write a piece of software that interacts with your tractor or with the scale that you weigh your livestock on, or something like that - there is no freely available piece of open-source software, so that you don’t have to start from scratch. That severely limits the innovation potential within agriculture.”

Ault’s group is among the four key organizations with projects geared to help farmers transition to data-driven agriculture:

AgGateway is working on common meanings, processes and formats for farmers’ data across the industry. Several precision ag projects are under way, including the new ADAPT software toolkit that enables interoperability among different software and hardware applications.

American Farm Bureau Federation has developed a way for vendors to be transparent about how they use farmers’ data. AFBF worked with other farm groups to create the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator, which helps farmers understand how their data will be used when they adopt precision ag technologies. Providers answer 10 questions that help farmers wade through detailed privacy and end-user agreements.

Agricultural Data Coalition focuses on how farmers can safely store and share their data. It formed last spring to help farmers control and manage electronic data by using a neutral, centralized repository from which farmers could, over time, push data to multiple sites.

Open Ag Data Alliance is improving how data can be securely moved among different parties. OADA formed in early 2014 to help the industry get data flowing automatically, so farmers can reap the benefits of data-driven decisions and stop wrangling with incompatible systems. OADA is building an open-source framework that will enable hardware and software systems to communicate automatically through cloud solutions.

Here are more details on the groups and their missions:

AgGateway

AgGateway is a nonprofit consortium of more than 200 businesses collaborating to promote,
enable and expand e-business in agriculture.

It has several connectivity projects underway, but AgGateway’s new ADAPT software toolkit is generating the most excitement. Citing many benefits, a dozen U.S. grower organizations are calling on Farm Management Information System firms to integrate the ADAPT framework into their systems.

With that integration into products, farmers will be able to manage data across different precision agriculture systems - regardless of the manufacturer.

“Farmers may never even hear the name ADAPT, but suddenly they’ll realize that their equipment can talk to each other, and that it’s working and that they have gotten over this really significant technological hurdle,” says Susan Ruland, AgGateway communication director.

Companies committed to using ADAPT and releasing plug-ins for many proprietary data formats include Agco, Ag Leader Technology, Claas, CNH Industrial, Deere & Co., Praxidyn, Raven Industries, Topcon Precision Agriculture and Trimble Navigation.

ADAPT stands for agricultural data application programming toolkit.

It’s the result of more than two years of painstaking work by the AgGateway teams and “a really fabulous collaborative effort of companies,” Ruland says. “I think we’re going to start to see a cascading effect of more and more companies using the ADAPT toolkit and making things easier for growers.”

Ensuring seamless transfer of information is one of the most revolutionary areas that agriculture could be working on right now, she says.

For more information, visit adaptframework.org.

American Farm Bureau Federation

The Ag Data Transparency Evaluator was launched last spring, two years after a coalition of farmer-led industry organizations and numerous agriculture technology providers identified key areas of concern for producers.

About four years ago, farmers had begun calling Farm Bureau with questions about data ownership and privacy. Many were not comfortable with contracts that companies wanted them to sign. The companies wanted the farmers to give them all their data. Farmers wanted to know what would happen to their data.

Nine state Farm Bureaus, mostly in the Midwest, joined AFBF in meeting with about eight major agribusinesses in 2013. That led to the development of 10 questions that a farmer ought to ask whomever he’s giving his data, says Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations for American Farm Bureau.

Further work led to grassroots policy recommendations on data privacy, transparency and portability. A principles document was written.

The result is the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator, a farmer-driven initiative that is not controlled by the agriculture technology providers whose products are reviewed.

“The idea was to drive companies to write policies that are more transparent,” Thatcher says.

The tool helps farmers figure out exactly where to look in a contract for the answers they’re seeking, using hyperlinks to pertinent sections.

“It’s free to farmers,” Thatcher says. “You can get on there and in a short time, read through and figure out what you want to know.”

Companies pay to go through the process, and a questionnaire is sent to them electronically. They answer it and it’s sent back with the payment. A third-party administrator reviews the information and goes back and forth with the companies to ensure clarity and transparency.

So far, eight companies that have gone through the Transparency Evaluator are approved for listing on the website, fb.org/agdatatransparent.

Agricultural Data Coalition

The Agricultural Data Coalition is developing a farmer-controlled data repository. It’s a privacy-ensured way for farmers to manage access to their farm data, services and products, as well as the markets.

“Our niche is the storage, the data bucket, the centralization of that data, and storing of that data over time while staying out of the way of the innovation or services tier,” says Matt Bechdol, interim executive director.

He likens the repository to a safe deposit box with assets that farmers control. “It’s a safe, secure, neutral place where the growers are in charge of that access,” he says.

A pilot project to see what farmers need and what a central place would be like is underway with growers, service providers and researchers.

Bechdol says ADC’s strength comes from its diverse membership. Founding members include Agco, Agri-AFCV, CNH Industrial, Crop IMS, Raven Industries, Topcon Precision Agriculture, American Farm Bureau Federation, the Ice Miller law firm, Iowa AgState, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and other land-grant universities: Mississippi State, Ohio State, Auburn and Purdue.

“We’ve got an advisory board that’s made up of growers from all walks of life across the country,” Bechdol says.

Learn more at agdatacoalition.org.

Open Ag Data Alliance

At Purdue University, OADA unites members the world over, from tractor manufacturers to crop nutrition companies to farmers. The community includes commercial vendors, academics and developers in the emerging ag data market.

Recently, Valley Irrigation was the first commercial organization in the OADA system whose cloud-based platform was OADA-conformant.

OADA is working closely with many current partners to make advances happen faster for farmers, while also protecting privacy. Main sponsors are CNH, WinField and The Climate Corp. The group is urging that more commercial systems conform to OADA standards, Ault says.

On his crop and beef farm in north-central Indiana, Ault has lived through the frustrations that many farmers experience with incompatible systems.

“Traditionally, we’ve had serious problems with interoperability,” Ault says. “If you talk to farmers on the ground, a lot of them would say that is the thing that they beat their head against the wall over. They have a piece of software that they want to use and then have some new controller they want to use, and it doesn’t work with their machine - or it might cost $5,000 for some conversion kit to make it work with their machine.

“It’s when you want to start using the data that interoperability becomes a problem, because no single manufacturer makes all of the things that work on my farm,” Ault says.

As farmers make data a critical part of their management routine, he says, they need systems that can incorporate data from a multitude of sources.

OADA came about to help speed along a sort of ag-based Internet - a huge global data sharing paradigm where farmers control data they generate, and where they can have software from five different vendors and machines from three, four, five different companies - and it all just happens to work together, Ault says.

“That’s what OADA is trying to build right now.” He says. “It’s essentially paralleling how the Internet was built.”

The Open Ag Data Alliance is about making the farmer’s data available to the software and to the applications on the phone in his pocket, so that he can make decisions in the now, when the questions come up, Ault says.

Learn more at openag.io.

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