How to protect your farm data

Big data has great potential to improve farmers’ bottom line and promote Canadian agriculture and food products to the world. But a farm data study commissioned by FCC Vision in November 2018 had 58 per cent of respondents saying their comfort level with technology has not improved in the past two years. And 25 per cent have become increasingly wary about how companies are collecting and using the data.

If companies don’t quickly take steps to clarify who owns the data, how they’re using it and who they’re sharing it with, the technology’s potential could be lost due to mistrust.

“The study was a bit of a wakeup call; it really seemed to hit a nerve,” says Fred Wall, vice-president of marketing with FCC in Regina. “I’d heard rumblings from lots of producers that there was less comfort or more suspicion, but I would go so far as to say nobody predicted the outcome of this survey a couple of years ago. All I kept hearing at the time was producers will get used to it, or they’ll have to share. It’s very interesting to see the depth of this trust issue. Respondents were just as likely to have lost trust or not changed their level of trust whether they did as little as possible with a computer or they managed their entire life digitally.”

Who wants to know?

Producers are quite willing to share production data with others in management groups to see how their operation stacks up against the others and where there is room for improvement. But, Wall says, this type of sharing is open, voluntary and transparent. Producers know exactly what they’re sharing, who they’re sharing with, and why. It’s different when strangers show up possessing intimate knowledge of their farm operations gleaned from cloud-stored data generated by their farm machinery or management software.

Farmers are willing to share production data with others in management groups … It’s different when strangers possess knowledge of the operation gleaned from data generated by farm machinery. Tweet this

Most agriculture technology providers are collecting data to optimize products and services and provide more value to the producer, Wall says. For instance, it might be used to provide an agronomist with as much information as possible about each field so they can make better recommendations. This type of data-sharing can be very beneficial to the farming operation. It helps spot trends and identify inefficiencies that can be eliminated to improve the bottom line.

But producers want to make sure they aren’t accidentally giving away trade secrets. It’s similar to how the local KFC franchise is quite eager to have a digital presence that lets the public know their hours of operation and receives feedback from customers. However, they don’t want to accidentally expose their secret mixture of 11 herbs and spices.

Ag Data Transparent certification

No one wants to wade through multiple pages of an end-user licensing agreement to learn what rights a supplier wants signed over. So 20 industry-leading companies, including well-known software packages like John Deere’s Operation Centre and FCC’s AgExpert, are now Ag Data Transparent (ADT) certified. This seal guarantees that a provider’s usage contract is compliant with the core principles of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s privacy and security principles for farm data.

Farmers can visit the ADT website and know at a glance what types of information a company collects, who owns the data and who it will be shared with.

“At some level, every company gets consent from whoever it is they’re working with to collect their data,” says Todd Janzen, administrator for ADT in Indianapolis, Ind. “Some are very general blanket consents; once you let them have the data, they can do whatever they want with it. Others are more specific and will say, ‘Okay, you consent to us storing your data. If we’re going to share it, we will ask for your consent to establish that link with a third party.’”

“Becoming the first Canadian company to receive ADT certification offers huge benefits for us,” Wall says. “First, it dramatically simplified our contracts with producers. They’re now written in simple, plain English and are much shorter. It also required us to put on the record – for verification with someone outside of FCC – who owns the data.”

ADT certification helps producers answer the three crucial questions they should ask before considering signing up for a digital tool or a software package, Wall says. These are:

  1. Who owns my data? Any provider or dealer should be able to answer that question in plain language.
  2. Who is the data shared with, and why?
  3. Do I have the right to exit and take my data with me?

“Just asking these questions brings great clarity to the mix,” Wall says. “Then, depending on the answers, you can determine if it’s something you’re comfortable with or not.”

It’s easy to overlook question number three, Wall says, but arguably it’s the most critical one to ask. Because if you can take your marbles and go home, they’re your marbles.

“Ag data offers so many potential benefits to farmers, but to realize that potential we’ll need to overcome this trust gap,” Wall says.

From an AgriSuccess article (June 2019) by Lorne McClinton.

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