Most farmers pay a third-party platform to store their ag data. That does not make farmers unique — most companies using cloud-based platforms are paying for data storage. I pay Apple to store my data in the iCloud. But what makes farmers unique is that there has always been an expectation that their ag data would have value to third parties, and that value should flow (or at least trickle) back to the farmer. However, today there are few ag tech companies paying farmers for their data. The money flows the other way.
Farmobile is one exception. Farmobile has long advocated that farmers own their data and should be paid for that data. Farmobile’s business model is a revenue sharing platform it calls the Data Store. If a company wants to buy information from the Data Store, Farmobile shares the revenue with the data originators, its farmer customers. For example, Farmobile once offered $2 per acre to Minnesota farmers in exchange for their ag data.
But mostly, farmers pay. Ag data platforms promise the value of their services — analytics, benchmarking, prescriptions etc.—will exceed the cost of annual or monthly ag data storage subscription fees. Ask 10 farmers whether the value of services exceeds the cost for cloud-storage and you’ll get different 10 answers.
Climate change complications may tip the cost/benefit ratio in favor of the farmer. Efforts to address climate change are starting to show up as opportunities for farmers to sequester carbon, but to do this, farmers need good ag data.
The Western Sustainability Exchange (WSE) is going start paying Montana farmers for following rotational grazing protocols that reduce the carbon footprint of their ranches. Rotational grazing allows pasture to develop deeper roots and sequester more carbon. Of course, ranchers would need to demonstrate compliance and that’s where ag data comes in. Similarly, Indigo Ag has offered to pay farmers $15 per acre to follow certain carbon-friendly protocols, such as no-till, crop rotation, and reduction of synthetic fertilizer usage. Both of these programs require long term commitments from the farmer and rancher, which runs contrary to the monthly subscription model that has allowed farmers to test-drive new ag data platforms without any long-term implications.
Other non-profit groups are working on developing larger carbon markets that benefit farmers and ranchers. The Ecosystem Services Market Consortium is developing farmer-facing platform to pay farmers for activities that improve soil health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and support conservation practices.
To undertake almost any form of carbon farming, farmers and ranchers are going to need to verify their practices are carbon neutral, CO2 negative, or sequestering carbon. That’s where ag data can show its worth.
Climate change initiatives don’t have to be a negative for farmers. For those that farm carbon and capture the data to prove it, climate change could help pay the bills.