By Matt Bechdol

One of the most valuable commodities cultivated by farmers today is the information their tractors, harvesters and aerial drones collect.

For farmers, this data can be used to improve efficiency, simplify paperwork and potentially generate additional dollars to help supplement farm income. It will also enable continued food safety and affordability, innovative land and water stewardship and responsiveness to ever-changing consumer demands.

It is no surprise that like the “digital bread crumbs” we leave behind when we shop, bank, share and search online, farm data is highly sought after. Universities need it to perform better research, manufacturers need it to build better farm equipment and input providers need it to produce cutting-edge seed and crop-boosting technologies. This means determining ownership of this important resource is among the most important questions that must be addressed as we enter this new era of data-driven agriculture.

So who owns the data? Is it the farmer who collects it?  Is it the equipment manufacturer that makes data collection possible?  Or is it the farm service provider who knows how to analyze the data and make it useful?  

Most parties now agree that ownership lies with the farmer.  After all, generating the data wouldn’t be possible without the farmer’s hard work, and it wouldn’t have any value without the farmer’s need to work better and faster.

Now comes the question: How do farmers protect and utilize this valuable information?

Currently, few farmers are able to use their data even though most are collecting it every day.  It’s not that farmers are technologically inferior.  Nearly all were using global positioning technology for navigation before the rest of us had ever heard of GPS. No, the challenge for farmers is making sure that the data is properly synced, stored and transmitted in a controlled and economical way that doesn’t take too much time and is easy for approved, trusted advisors to access. 

A new approach to overcoming this obstacle will be taken this week.

The Agricultural Data Coalition, or ADC, will be laser focused on designing, creating and managing a central repository where farmers can store their information and oversee how it is accessed.

Think of it like bank.  Today, farmers are doing little more than stashing money under their mattresses when it comes to data. We all know that is neither safe nor convenient.

The ADC will create a bank where farmers can instead securely deposit their data.  Growers then, through the equivalent of an online banking system, can share their data with an insurance agent, or a researcher, or a farm manager, or a government regulator or whoever else they deem appropriate.

Just like an ATM or banking card, the ADC will work towards seamless data transmission between all parties in a uniform way.  That reduces IT costs for the businesses dealing with the data and frees them up to invest in innovation instead of integration. 

Best of all, the whole ADC system is founded on the belief that farmers should be the primary beneficiaries of this new-found commodity.  Even if a grower isn’t yet sure what to do with their data, it still becomes advantageous to deposit it into the bank and effectively accumulate savings that can be used at a later date.

Building this national network won’t happen overnight and a lot of work and coordination remains.  But with farmers in control of their own destinies, the future of agriculture looks very bright, and we will all continue to benefit from the strength of modern American farmers. 

About the Author: Matt Bechdol is the interim executive director of the Agricultural Data Coalition. 


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