“Big data” is a term that’s been getting bigger lately. With groups like Farm Bureau and companies such as Monsanto and John Deere adopting positions, more dialog will come and standards will be sought.

As big data is being more widely considered in agriculture, its potential misuse is drawing more attention. It may be important for you as an ag professional to understand the basics and take a look at your own policy regarding data privacy.

It’s good to remember here that technology is not moral or amoral. It just is. Technology only really does what people use it for, whether good or evil. You can use a cell phone to call your mother every Sunday or you can use it to detonate a bomb. The phone doesn’t care, because, get this now: It CAN’T. Your smartphone just isn’t that smart.

Big data in today’s precision agriculture is the same in this regard. It simply means “computers give us the capacity to record and sort lots of tiny geo-referenced facts we never had the ability to capture and analyze before.” As an ag professional, your ability to help growers turn all those little facts into smarter crop production is the special sauce. Some already have 15 or 20 seasons of data stacked up and more robust data is coming. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are expected to add greatly to the resource called big data.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) had its annual meeting in January and dealt with big data. A statement out of that meeting shared that farmer delegates “felt so strongly about these matters…that they approved strong policy resolutions” encouraging data privacy. Monsanto recently acquired a data company called Climate Corp., founded by David Friedberg, and Friedberg will now be Monsanto’s data guru.

Friedberg’s take on privacy is available online at: http://www.climate.com/principles. Ag professionals already know about keeping private information private. With the issue of big data gaining more attention, though, retail leaders may want to revisit existing policies regarding privacy of financial data and take necessary steps to cover crop production data. Once policy is clear, coaching employees on how to respond to data privacy questions will help assure customers of your integrity.

Where should retailers, farm managers and bankers come down on the issue of big data and how it’s shared? On one side, you can see ag professionals zealously guarding grower data because of the leverage it provides in keeping your customer YOUR customer. But that could prove risky when valuable data that could significantly help your customer make more money lies outside of your control. The thing about building a wall is that it has the hazard of keeping good things out, too.

If you are an ag retailer considering the blessings and risks of data value held by bigger  companies, you should remember the trump card you hold. In the midst of all this talk about  the cloud, big data and its power, agriculture is still local and precision agriculture is “hyperlocal.” It must come through the door of a relationship. Although more information from  fields near and far can be helpful in shaping decisions on crop inputs and practices, it’s still all about your farmer-customer and his/her individual fields, zones, crops and goals. Season on season, it’s about the size of the crop, profit earned, care of the land and how a grower’s goals were met. In that competition, your data, local knowledge and outstanding service can help make the most of the right data every time.