Opinion: Growers shouldn't need a law degree to understand their data terms agreements

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By: Pete Clark, Head of Ag Connections

Earlier this spring the FBI and USDA warned growers with a Private Industry Notification (PIN) to be more aware and wary about the security of their farm data. While I wholeheartedly encourage data education and awareness among growers, I am concerned about attitudes of worry and mistrust toward ag tech companies that are helping growers evolve into data-driven operations. It is critical that farms embrace data innovations and technologies to successfully feed the growing global population of 9 billion people by 2050.

Ag data providers: As your peer in this evolving space, I'm calling for your cooperation to protect and nurture our most valuable asset - growers' trust. Without their trust, it won't matter how much venture capital floods into the ag tech space. Trust is at the core of success in agriculture.

Several findings from the recent American Farmers Bureau Federation survey on big data (PDF) concern me because they signal a lack of trust. The survey highlights an overarching sentiment of grower skepticism toward the ag data technology industry and our use of their data.

Together we can feed the Bees"

According to the survey results, an overwhelming number of growers feel they are being kept in the dark about the terms of use surrounding their farm data. When asked if they had a signed privacy policy, licensing agreement or terms and conditions document, 28 percent of growers said they had never heard of these agreements.

One of my biggest fears is that a company in the ag data space will misrepresent their data use policies and intentions. With so many growers unaware that they are entering into agreements about their farm data, there could be a serious backlash against data innovation if these agreements have been hidden from growers.

Even worse, 79 percent of growers reported not being aware of all the ways in which a company intends to use their farm data. In my opinion, the way data companies should use growers' data is to leave it alone.

But more than being uncertain of how companies intend to use their data, 61 percent of growers worry their data could be used to influence companies' decisions in the market. Growers shouldn't fear that leveraging data management technology to help them better organize and analyze their operation to efficiently increase yield will result in companies marketing services, equipment or inputs at a higher price.

To date, I have not heard of any instances where growers' data may have been used improperly, and I hope that remains true. However, it could take only one unreliable partner or dishonest circumstance and the value of the tech innovations and the ability to scale these programs could vanish.

Growers understand the value of using their farm data in a smart way - 83 percent said data provides benefits in providing information for farm business decisions. So how can we band together to ease worried minds and continue to empower growers with our tools?

At Ag Connections, as part of the AgriEdge Excelsior® program, we hold data ownership and accuracy at the heart of our offering. Our Data and Privacy Policy is guided by four simple principles that I would encourage other companies to consider:

Grower data is the property of the grower.

Ag Connections only uses the data to support the grower, and as authorized by the grower.

Ag Connections only shares grower data as requested or authorized by the grower.

Ag Connections does not analyze, aggregate or data mine grower data unless requested or authorized by the grower.

I suggest all companies in the ag data space get involved in the organizations and initiatives that help advance our industry and dispel doubts.

We are proud to be a partner of The Ag Data Transparency Evaluator. Growers shouldn't need a law degree to understand how their data is used by an ag tech provider. This tool boils down lengthy data and privacy contracts based on a set of 10 questions with simple “yes” or “no” answers.

Along with many of the other ag data tech providers, we are also deeply involved in AgGateway, a nonprofit group of businesses serving the agriculture industry, with the mission to expand eBusiness in agriculture.

We participate in the AgGateway Precision Ag Council that oversees the Standardized Precision Ag Data Exchange (SPADE) Project and the Precision Ag Irrigation Leadership (PAIL) Project. Our manager of special projects, Andres Ferreyra, even travelled to Japan and Germany earlier this year to share insights from the our work and learn more about the organization's initiatives that are timely in terms of worldwide efforts toward standardization and connectivity.

I'm proud of the work these organizations are doing for the industry as a whole and firmly believe involvement in these type of community initiatives can empower us to better serve growers.

In addition to considering the principles of your policy and supporting the industry organizations that advance our community, I make this plea of my fellow ag tech providers in regard to our data policies that we are all transparent, open and honest. Having worked to securely organize and analyze farm data since 1998, I know that if we want to help growers feed the growing world, we must address grower worry and concern now.

Pete Clark is Head of Ag Connections. In 1998, he cofounded Ag Connections, Inc., a firm specializing in the development of software tools for growers, retailers and consultants to provide increased efficiency and compliance in the management of crop production. Since launching Ag Connections, Pete has helped grow the company from 3 employees to a team of 36 as well as establishing Ag Connection's software and services as a powerful tool for crop management.

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