Big Data Benefits – and Concerns – Many Farmers

More and more, big data is having a significant effect on how farmers do their jobs. And there is no shortage of ways for farmers to collect data from their farms. There also is no shortage of companies that are willing to, for the right price, help farmers use this data to make their farms run more efficiently.

Tractors and other farm machinery are outfitted with sensors that record information and then upload that information to the cloud. Once this information has been uploaded, farmers are able to use the information to decide what to plant, where to plant it, how to fertilize it, and much more.

When surveyed, farmers list positive results when they use precision technologies that collect weather data, track seed varieties, analyze nutrient applications, and map crop yields. Those farmers also report that the use of precision technology has reduced the cost of seed, fertilizer, and pesticides by approximately 15 percent, and increased crop yields by about 13 percent. More than half of the respondents who are actively farming say they plan to invest in new or additional precision and data technology in the next year or two.

While farmers are benefiting from the collection of this data, they also are concerned that they will lose control over this information after it is uploaded from their farm to the cloud. For example, some farmers have expressed concern that their information could be sold, in the form of agriculture lists, to traders or commodity brokers. They also worry that their information could be used by companies to sell them seed and fertilizers at set prices.

In light of their concerns, farmers want more assurances that their data is – and will remain – their property. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) says data collected from individual farms is a valuable commodity that belongs to the individual farmers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he is optimistic the increasing amount of farm data will help farmers grow more while helping the environment, but that concerns must be addressed about privacy. One step toward addressing these concerns is the “Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data” document. This document is endorsed and signed by companies like DuPont and farm organizations including the National Corn Growers Association and the National Farmers Union.

Those who signed the agreement state that farmers own the data from their farms and control who gets access to that data. It also says that companies that use collected information cannot use it to speculate on commodity markets.

The AFBF says that it will continue to monitor the issue of big data and farmers. It also is planning a tool that will help farmers evaluate whether or not the contracts they sign safeguard their interests when it comes to big data.