Talking with farmers, there seems to be a distinct divide between those who are embracing the big data revolution and those who are skeptical of it. One farmer colorfully likened the risk of independent companies or government agencies accessing his data without permission as “a sign of the apocalypse.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) recently announced a collaborative agreement by agricultural companies on data standards and privacy. The effect these “principles” will have on increasing farmer confidence in data sharing remains to be seen, but John Deere, Monsanto and Raven Industries are among the companies backing the agreement.
While I’m not personally convinced that the end is near, concerns about data sharing and security are top of mind for many dealers and their customers.
The announcement of this unified effort comes on the heels of the AFBF’s data privacy survey of more than 2,600 active farmers, about one-third who say they use precision farming technology, or share their data with a third-party.
The results revealed a high level of uncertainty as to how farm data is being used and what to do if a breach occurs. More than 75% of respondents say they are concerned that their data could be used for regulatory purposes, or by a third-party for “market-sensitive” commercial use.
Even a higher percentage say they aren’t aware of how companies intend to use their data, or the proper course of action if sensitive information is hacked or exposed.
But these fears don’t seem to diminish farmers’ ambition to find a trustworthy partner or partners for data management storage, with more than two-thirds expressing some interest in working with an independent entity for this service, according to the AFBF survey.
Farmers increasingly understand the value of preserving and analyzing data to improve decision-making. This is a market that some precision farming dealers are capturing, as more begin to incorporate, at minimum, yield data collection and processing as a chargeable service.
But dealers can also provide an educational service as well to customers and help curtail security and privacy concerns with data sharing, to a certain extent. Companies offering prescriptive farming programs may provide privacy statements or ownership guarantees. But do those instill enough confidence in farmers to make the financial investment, especially if they don’t really understand what they are buying?
Perhaps, but as the daily point of contact for customers, precision dealers can clarify for customers the realities of sharing their farm data. Talking with a precision ag manager at a dealership in Minnesota recently, he says his main goal with data management service is to give customers the information to make profitable decisions, not to make the decisions for them.
“I don’t want to be an agronomist and write prescriptions,” he says. “It’s my customers’ information and they should be the ones deciding what to do with the data. Not me or anyone else.”