The traditional business model for selling farm equipment has served the industry particularly well, but the time has come to evolve that model so dealers can help farmers translate their data into actionable information.

So says Aaron Ault project lead with the Open Ag Data Alliance (OADA), an independent organization developing an open source data exchange framework for dealers and farmers.

“The current business model was great. It got us to auto-steer, it got us to row clutches and it got us to the most advanced farming technology in existence as far as equipment goes, but that model was a monopoly,” says Ault. “No single OEM can manufacture something that handles every single piece of data on my farm. No tractor manufacturer makes grain legs, grain bins, semi-trucks or HR software — all the things that affect the logistics of farmers’ day-to-day operations.”

Ault feels that farmers, dealers and agronomists all face a very similar struggle with proprietary restrictions — the inability to make tool A work with tool B. Much of his work with OADA centers on simplifying the transmission of data in agriculture and establishing a sort of “open middle layer” that awards tool compatibility and data accessibility.

In an ideal “everything works with everything” scenario, farmers won’t be forced to buy equipment because it’s the only thing that works with what they already have. Likewise dealers won’t be limited in what they can sell them, Ault says.

As dealers and farmers both look to profit from the glut of data being collected on farms, both parties are equally concerned about privacy, security and liability when it comes to managing the data. This is chief among OADA’s concerns as well.

“The big questions are about data security and privacy,” says Ault. “Our project has been designed from the ground up with the idea that the farmer owns the data generated on their farm. They are the ones who decide where it should go.”

Aaron Ault, project lead with the Open Ag Data Alliance, discusses the need for a collaborative effort for open source sharing of precision farming data and existing hurdles to achieving this goal.

Ault notes that the privacy policies in place between dealers and farmers, and the trust they’ve built with one another are still important. But by building a standard with which data can be deposited and retrieved from the cloud, farmers are given full control of their data and can choose to only release it to parties that they trust.

Successful widespread implementation of OADA’s platform will offer dealers the benefit of a level of data handling support that it would be very difficult for them to cultivate on their own, Ault says.

“There’s going to be a huge value added layer in the middle for dealers and agronomists in this space to monetize the trust they have with their day-to-day customers,” he says. “If you work with the data manually, you can burn hundreds of man hours collecting zip files and emailing things. Once that’s no longer manual, you can afford to scale it, and dealers can serve those roles.”

The project, just over a year old, already has 6 commercial companies involved in demonstration projects that exchange data over the platform OADA has defined. Ault is hopeful that the 6 companies — CNH, Geosys, Mapshots, Winfield, SpensaTech and Climate Corporation will be able to move those projects over from demonstrations to products in the coming year and that participation will continue to grown.

His vision for the effort’s future is that farmers and dealers won’t be as worried or preoccupied with the intricacies of data transfer, security and privacy, so they can, instead, focus in on the actionable information the data provides.