‘Data Revolution’ center stage at Commodity Classic

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 5, 2014 - Agriculture's “data revolution” was a recurring theme during the 2014 Commodity Classic in San Antonio last week.

The National Corn Growers Association and American Soybean Association both adopted policies emphasizing data privacy and ownership for farmers who choose to share their data with companies in exchange for analysis services. The language for both organizations is similar to that of the American Farm Bureau Federation's policy adopted in January.

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“We've all invested heavily in the technology to gather field and production data,” Iowa Soybean Association President Brian Kemp told Agri-Pulse during the meeting.

Technology is enabling farmers to collect vast amounts of data each year on their seed population, nutrient application, yields, weather, and more. In response, seed and chemical companies including DuPont and Monsanto, along with all major equipment providers, offer services to analyze and organize this information.

“Many producers don't have the knowledge and skills to manipulate that data,” Kemp said, adding that they may choose to turn the data over to one of their service providers. At the same time he said, “Producers are concerned that they retain ownership of the data in the future.”

The topic gained increased attention late last year when seed company Monsanto bought weather data analysis start-up Climate Corporation.  In late February, Climate Corporation announced its acquisition of the soil analysis business line of Solum Inc., an agriculture technology company.

“What drew us to this platform is the ability of its expansion globally,” Anthony Osborne, vice president of marketing for Climate Corporation, told reporters at the Commodity Classic.

“I believe we're at the forefront of a data revolution in agriculture,” Osoborne said. He also emphasized the company's data privacy commitments and standards.

“We believe data storage should be free,” Osborne said. “And we will work to enable free flow of data across other platforms, as well as other providers' tools.” He reiterated the company's intent to form an Open Ag Data Alliance, which would include other agribusinesses and interest groups with the goal of outlining and maintaining privacy goals.

Farm groups have already been meeting in Washington to consider much the same thing: what types of guidelines need to be in place to protect farmer's data and privacy?

FarmLink, an affiliate of MachineryLink, recently unveiled a new product that President Scott Robinson said may address some of the privacy concerns of growers. The product, called TrueHarvest Benchmark, is a tool that shows farmers the range of performance potential for their fields, down to a 150 square foot micro-field - without requiring a farmer's own data. FarmLink has also established a data privacy policy for customers.  

FarmLink says the product provides farmers with a performance range for comparable land with comparable conditions, without a farmer's own data. However, if farmers want to access FarmLink's full range of Benchmark products they do need to provide yield data. That way, they can compare yield results to the performance range provided by Benchmark.

While “everyone else is focused on getting data from the farmer,” the Benchmark tool shows the baseline for the farm and the ideal performance of its fields, Robinson said. According to FarmLink, TrueHarvest Benchmark shows that American farmers could have produced about 1.6 billion more bushels of corn and 250 million more bushels of soybeans in 2013, if performing equal to the 75th percentile compared to their peers. 

Robinson said his partnership with former Sprint COO Ron LeMay that began four years ago to launch FarmLink is the first attempt to provide a broad benchmarking tool for agriculture. He said farming is going through what the gas and power industry went through 20 years ago. 

“Until now, farmers had no way to know whether their yields - high or low - were representative of top performance,” Robinson said.

Robinson, who previously worked for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Oliver Wyman consulting firm, said other industries consistently use industry-wide benchmarking. “The problem with agriculture is it's really fragmented,” Robinson explained. “The ability to do data collection and comparative analysis is actually really hard.”

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