Farmers and growers aren’t just selling corn and beef any more, they’re selling data.

But many are still not switched onto the potential of this additional revenue stream. Smaller operations still view data as a hassle and a cost – something that they’re tired of collecting. While larger organizations may have challenges driving value from the data they already possess in abundance.

So where is the much-vaunted value in data?

Credit where credit is due

Carbon credits is one area where the value of data is already becoming evident, as highly detailed information on the sustainable improvements each individual farm may have made – everything from the health of its soil to the amount of fertilizer it uses on each acre – sits at the heart of carbon markets.

But in many cases, this is only the start of what can be possible. The agriculture supply chain is sitting on a wealth of data that can potentially be monetized. ‘Smart silos’ can record and track the condition of the grain within, creating a hedge against risk and proactively respond to temperature and humidity changes. Data-driven crop forecasting is aligned to day-by-day weather patterns. Growers of produce like oranges can even use AI technology to sort their yield by buyer type - reducing waste.

Data is also at the core of compliance with legislation like the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), not to mention a farmer’s ability to prove that their crop has been grown to a more sustainable standard and is therefore worth a premium price to a retailer like Whole Foods.

Of course, data has its concerns – not least over privacy and legislation that’s currently in flux.

Protecting your data harvest

When we think of privacy, we often think of consumers’ data and ensuring businesses protect personally identifiable information. In the context of agriculture, privacy also extends to protecting data that is harvested from land, crops and businesses. 

The legislative landscape is always evolving. There are active Senate Hearings on Oversight to AI, for example. This, however, should not stand in the way of enabling growers to capture and monetize their data. With a good approach to data governance and security, any farmer can navigate the regulatory aspects.

That might sound daunting to some, but cloud technology providers have released features to enable farmers to protect and secure their most sensitive data, without needing their own data centers and without losing functionality gained from leveraging it.

By providing the infrastructure and technology that underpins their consumer products, this democratization can enable all consumers and businesses to become a part of the data economy. 

Farmers can bring together their private data, in a secure way, alongside public datasets on pollen counts and air pollution to derive insights. And it’s not just the large ones that are innovating – look at projects like FarmOS and Bloomfield.AI.

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In many cases, smaller farmers are coming together to create the scale that’s needed to make data truly profitable. Instead of falling behind the big suppliers that are already becoming technology and data companies as much as farm equipment providers, they’re able to invest collaboratively to create and realize value.

Thanks to advances in digital capability, there’s now an opportunity for any business involved in the supply chain to monetize its data – to create cloud-based data platforms and take part in the data economy without requiring expert proficiency in IT to make it happen.

That’s why it’s so important that growers aren’t put off by the perceived cost of collecting, storing and governing their data. Instead, data is as much of a revenue generator as anything else they produce – and when they come together, they can compete in the data economy as strongly as any of their big corporate buyers or suppliers.

Jared Johnson is director of digital strategy at Kin + Carta, the global digital transformation agency who have worked with a number of major players in the ag sector, developing digital products, plans, and processes that yield tangible value.