WASHINGTON, April 27, 2016 - There are many different kinds of agricultural cooperatives that produce everything from milk to sugar, but the Ag Data Coalition (ADC) is leading the way for a whole new kind of operation: a farm data co-op.
By June 1, the ADC – including the American Farm Bureau Federation, CropIMS, CNH, AGCO, Topcon, Raven, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the Ohio State University, Auburn University and the University of Mississippi – plans to have a prototype of the co-op up and running for a three-to-four-month trial, Mary Kay Thatcher, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s senior director for congressional relations, told Agri-Pulse in an interview. By fall it should be fully operational.
Modern farm machinery enables producers to routinely capture and store massive amounts of data as farmers plant, cultivate and harvest their crops, and those producers should have total control and perhaps even profit from that information, Thatcher said. It’s why the group is leading the way to establish the first ever data bank, strictly for the benefit of farmers that use it.
More companies than ever are competing to collect the data farmers produce on yield, seeding, and fertilizer and pesticide use, but farmers often lose control of the data after they give it up.
“One the data goes into the ADC repository,” Thatcher said, “Then the farmer will be able to push a button and share it with Monsanto, share it with Pioneer, share it with John Deere, share it with a local agronomist, share it with a crop insurance agent or whomever. Or, if they like, no one at all.”
That will be a big change from the status quo, Thatcher explained, and the biggest change will be portability. If a farmer stores data in the co-op, there’s no threat of losing that data by, say, switching seed companies.
Thatcher described a hypothetical – but quite common – situation in which a farmer has been giving his planting data to seed company A for six or seven years, before finding a seed from company B that works better for that farmer’s soil and weather conditions. The farmer switches to seed company B, “but maybe seed company A gives you your six or seven years of data back…. Maybe they don’t.”
It’s not right that a farmer either loses his or her data or stays with a seed company just to avoid losing the historical information, Thatcher said.
The co-op “will put farmers in control,” she said. “It will make their data very portable, and I think down the line it’s going to give them an option to actually garner some value for their data.”
Now most of the value farmers get from the data they collect is through prescriptions on how to better seed fields and apply inputs, but soon it will be common for producers to get paid just by giving others access to their information.
Minnesota-based Farmobile LLC is the first company that promises to share profits with farmers by selling access to the data collected in fields. The company made its official debut earlier this month and promised to pay farmers a minimum $2 per acre for their data even if the company cannot sell access to it.
“We believe data is one of the most valuable things a farmer harvests, and yet too many of our neighbors around the country give their information away for a pittance,” said Farmobile CEO Jason Tatge in a statement.
It may not be long before that kind of business is available to farmers across the country, giving even more impetus to ADC’s co-op.
Thatcher stressed that the co-op won’t be competing with private entities providing prescription farming advice and benchmarking – at least not immediately.
“Our intent is not to go into this now and compete with (companies) that are already providing services in writing prescriptions,” Thatcher said. “That’s not to say that after we get this set up that farmers might not get together and say, ‘Well maybe we’d like to look at that.’”
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