Editor's Note: Todd Janzen, attorney at Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP in Indianapolis, grew up on a Kansas grain and livestock farm and now practices law in the at the intersection of ag and technology. Todd is chair of the American Bar Association’s Agricultural Management Committee and authors a blog addressing legal issues facing agriculture. You can see more posts from Todd at JanzenAgLaw.com.  

The rapid spread of the avian flu across the Unites States has been cause for concern for a lot of farmers and consumers. I can’t help but wonder whether wide-spread adoption of data collection and sharing by poultry farmers could have helped stop the spread of the avian flu. Most of the focus on farm data the past few months has been on the impact on corn, soybean, wheat, canola, and cotton farmers. I keep wondering when the big data solutions for livestock farmers will appear. 

Kenneth Cukier describes in his book “Big Data, a Revolution,” how Google searches can be used to predict where a cold virus will spread based upon what terms people are searching in what geographical locations.  If poultry farmers used a centralized data storage tool to track the medicines they were buying and administering, could we do the same to reduce the spread of avian flu? 

Similarly, if production data from dairy cows in the Midwest was tracked and collected in a centralized database — then shared with participating dairy farmers — could these farmers better predict the swings in milk production (and consequent swings in price)? Big data has enormous implications for livestock farmers too.

The first step in big data analytics is collection of the data. This needs to happen in the livestock industry to give farmers another tool to bolster production and reduce the effects of market swings. Dairy farmers have been collecting data on cows for decades, even in computerized form, but are these dairies also sharing and benchmarking their results against other farms? I don’t think so. We aren’t there yet.

Some companies in the meat packing industry already do this.  On a recent tour of a meat packing operation, I was able to see how meat packers share all data among each other to measure and compare productivity.

But why can’t dairy, beef, swine and poultry farmers do the same thing at the local level?

If you are a startup company or existing technology provider that serves the livestock or poultry industry, I’d love to hear from you about this topic.  If you have livestock data analytic tools, please let me know.  I’d love to hear more.

Data analytics promise tremendous advancements for crop farmers.  Let’s make sure livestock farmers don’t get left behind.