Monsanto adopts privacy standards for farm data use

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2014 - The Climate Corporation, a farm-focused software and insurance developer bought by Monsanto last year, announced policy guidelines it will use when collecting information from individual farmers, stressing that the data is the property of the farmer.

The announcement follows the American Farm Bureau Federation's (AFBF) adoption earlier this month of a new policy position on privacy issues raised by “Big Data,” specifically the proprietary data collected from individual farms. The data should remain the property of the farmer, AFBF said, emphasizing the importance of privacy as technology using the information expands to provide new management tools.

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 “There is uncertainty about how farmers' data will be used, as well as control and privacy,” Climate Corporation CEO David Friedberg said today in a teleconference, adding that the Guiding Principles on Data and Privacy he was announcing could help remove some of the uncertainty. The principals have also been adopted by Monsanto, he said.

 First of all, he said, data created by a farmer or generated from equipment the farmer owns or leases, is owned by that farmer.

 Additionally, basic data services provided by his company should be free of cost, and a farmer should be able to share his data easily across different systems.  He also said Climate Corporation will use third party audits to make sure it is following the guidelines.

If a farmer uses a Climate Corporation free service that simply collects, stores and provides access to that data, the company will not view or use. Friedberg said the company needs to get explicit consent from the farmer to use the data for specific activities and research.

 “We're not going to ask any farmer for a blanket statement,” he said. “We're trying to force ourselves to show value to the farmer for letting us use their data for research purposes.”

 The company also plans to form an Open Ag Data Alliance -- an association of farmers, ndustry organizations, and companies that will set standards for using and sharing data in the agriculture industry. Friedberg said alliance members will be announced in the coming weeks.

 “We are encouraged that agribusinesses are taking our clear policy position into consideration,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said in a statement. By adopting the principles, Monsanto is demonstrating that the company is working to address his members' concerns, he said.

 “Overall, we see this as an important step toward securing widespread cooperation on Big Data issues that affect all sectors of production agriculture,” Stallman said.

 Friedberg noted there is an understandably skeptical view of new technology services that use private farm data, but that harnessing this information through new technology can bring a new era of productivity for agriculture.

 “I think we can build a great business by doing what's right for the farmer,” he said. “I think we're at early stages of the adoption cycle... we need to develop trust as we continue.”

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