Farmers: Get familiar with new big data agreement

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SALEM, Ohio — Who owns collected farm production data, and how and where can that information be sent or used?

A data privacy agreement reached Nov. 13 by six major farm organizations and six agriculture technology providers is expected to become industry standard language regarding data gathered on farming operations.

Robert Moore, an agricultural law attorney in Dublin, Ohio, said farmers should become familiar with the Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data agreement sooner than later.

View the full Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data agreement.

“As a private attorney, what I would advise is to start looking for these principles in your (agricultural technology) contract,” Moore said. “They are only binding if they are in a contract, so farmers should start to recognize these and if they are not in their contracts, get them in there if they want to.”

Rapid change

The agreement comes in response to the evolution of precision agriculture and farm data collection. That technological evolution has led to a need for consistent contract language between farmers and agricultural technology providers, Moore said.

“The idea is to get these standards incorporated into contracts,” Moore said, “and to have uniform principles in each contract so that the farmer and the provider understand what is expected in (language) everyone is accustomed to.”

Otherwise, Moore said, issues such as data ownership can vary greatly from one contract to the next. The agreement, he said, strikes a balance between allowing the technology providers to collect data, while protecting each farmer’s individual data.

“The technology providers can use farmers’ data, as long as its anonymous collected data,” he said, They can’t use individual farm data or identify farm practices.”

Ownership clarity

Of the issues outlined in the agreement, data ownership has been the most important issue to farmers thus far, according to Yvonne Lesicko, Ohio Farm Bureau senior director of state and national policy.

“We ask (farmers) ‘do you own your data or do they? And if they own it, do you understand what they can do with it?’” Lesicko said.

In many cases, she said, the answer to both has been no. For that reason, Lesicko said, much of the agreement is written with farmer ownership of data in mind.

The agreement states, in part, that “farmers own information generated on their farming operations. However… it is the responsibility of the farmer to agree upon data use and sharing with the other stakeholders with an economic interest such as the tenant, landowner, cooperative, owner of the precision agriculture system hardware.”

It continues: “collection, access and use of farm data should be granted only with the affirmative and explicit consent of the farmer.”

The agreement also says farmers must be notified that their data is being collected and told how the farm data will be disclosed, and that farmers need to know who, if anyone, will have access to their data beyond the technology provider, and how they will use it.

It’s your information

Granting farmers such a swath of data ownership rights, Lesicko said, benefits both farmers and technology providers.

“It is a trust thing and (the technology providers) understand that if a farmer doesn’t have control of the information, they are not going to get it,” Lesicko said.

New principles

Moore said that whether or not farmers as a whole have considered the long-range ramifications of agricultural data collection, there will invariably be a case in which such information is used inappropriately.

He said he could envision a scenario in which a technology provider collects data that is then analyzed by one of the farmer’s competitors or an organization or agency like the USDA.

“I think it would be inadvertent, but detrimental,” Moore said. “Data might show that the farmer is not in compliance with a USDA program, or if a competitor (had access to) yield data, they could go to the landlord and say ‘based on this, I’m getting much better crops.’”

Just the beginning

Will Rodger director of policy communications for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the agreement ensures technology providers are transparent not only at the beginning of data collection activities but throughout the process.

Rodger said the second phase, a “transparency program,” is expected to be rolled out in 2015. This program will include a review of existing technology collection contracts by “a third party on behalf of the AFBF.”

Rodger said such benchmarks must be established now, given the speed at which data collection technology is advancing.

“The farmer is responsible for what he is signing, but the vendor needs to be sure its understandable and reasonable. And in a lot of ways, this should encourage smaller (data collection) companies because now they have a set of goal posts.”

 

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