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Food Metrics Frustrate Farmers

Data defines agriculture today. Farmers and ranchers collect, analyze and then act on reams of data collected on every field, feedlot, piece of equipment and more.

Other industries recognize the value of data, particularly across the food value chain. Food metrics are being developed by food companies that measure multiple factors, including sustainability.

Yet, according to a recent report based on surveys of food companies and growers, much work remains on creating a data collection and reporting system that works for everyone. The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance report, "Navigating the Food Metrics Maze," found farmers often felt their perspective and interests had been largely disregarded by the companies. They also believed the data they spent time and expense to provide was either being used to enhance someone else's profits or could be turned against them. Bottom line: Most farmers don't find sustainability-driven data collection to be worthwhile for them right now.

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Meanwhile, 69% of companies recognized the need to do a better job "making the case to farmers about the value of reporting and connecting it to important economic and sustainability outcomes." As a result, the report identified five themes that need to be addressed to help lower the burden for everyone to report food metrics:

1. Learn Each Other's Language. There's a disconnect between farmers and food companies on terminology, specifically the definition of sustainability. Farmers should share in the design and interpretation of data so that it's grounded in everyday farm practices and outcome.

2. Simplify. Sixty-three percent of companies said they favored standardizing questions and reporting platforms by commodity or agricultural product; 57% suggested a common platform to remove redundancies.

3. Don't Oversimplify. Farming is not manufacturing. It's location specific. The metrics need to allow for variation in farmers' operations and reflect continuous improvement.

4. Make Ag Data Technology Work for Everyone. Ninety percent of companies indicated maximizing technology was key to improving the process. Farmers noted the tools that worked best for them overlay economic data with input/output and were integrated with their internal farm-management systems both for ease of data entry and ability to create value for the farmer.

5. Lower Cost of Data Collection, Analysis and Sharing to Farmers While Improving Quality.

For companies, transparency and traceability of data is important to ensure the data's quality. Many companies support a third party collecting the on-farm data to improve the quality and rigor around the collection process, providing reportable standards for buyers and consistency for producers.

- Gregg Hillyer

> Write Gregg Hillyer, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email gregg.hillyer@dtn.com.

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