Storing Farm Data in One Spot

Coalition Rolls Out Ag Data Repository for Farmers, Suppliers

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Agricultural Data Coalition will approve data providers to join with an "Ag Data Transparent" logo that would tell farmers the company meets certain transparency requirements. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

NEW ORLEANS (DTN) -- A group of companies and universities have come together to create a central data repository, or cloud, to help farmers store data and share that information with various agronomic and technical service providers.

The Agricultural Data Coalition rolled out details about its pilot project on Thursday at the Commodity Classic.

The Ag Data Coalition began with major ag groups coming together two years ago to create a standard for farmer privacy and ownership of data. It has since grown to include 36 companies and a handful of land-grant universities working to educate farmers about data issues.

One challenge the coalition has encountered is the difficulty of managing various forms of data coming off tractors, or data a farmer may have in a separate spreadsheet on historical farm yields, inputs, or even financial data. This is a growing problem for farmers who may have information stored in different ways or in programs that are not compatible.

"This stuff is really hard and the burden is on the grower to make sense of it all," said Matt Bechdol, who was recently named as executive director of the Ag Data Coalition.

The data repository will roll out later this spring as a pilot project for a small group of farmers and then be expanded with machinery manufacturers and other data management companies linking in their customers. Farmers would have the ability to share access to their data with other companies that help manage either crop inputs or other farm tasks.

"It minimized that burden of data management for the grower," Bechdol said. "We want to support growers by putting them in control of their data."

Beyond the repository, the coalition also will approve other data providers to join with an "Ag Data Transparent" logo that would tell farmers the company meets certain transparency requirements. Such requirements include ensuring farmers own their individual data and ag technology providers not only ensure protection of the data, but obtain a farmer's consent before sharing such information with a third party.

Bechdol and others who spoke about the repository on Thursday stressed farmers would be in control of their data. The farmer decides with whom to do business and whether to shut off access. Still, Bechdol acknowledged that farmer data could still be exposed if the repository were to become hacked. Like any software system, security and firewalls will remain an ongoing challenge.

"In that case, to me, am I going to lose sleep overnight because someone might hack my data, or am I going to lose sleep overnight because I don't have a good idea what my bottom line is in my operation?" Bechdol asked. "I'm going to take one evil over the next. Is that a legitimate and ongoing concern? Absolutely, but we're going to take the best and the brightest we have with this coalition to say, 'Well, what can we do?' But it's always going to be there."

Several universities also have joined the Ag Data Coalition. They include Auburn University, Mississippi State University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Ohio State University. Scott Shearer, a professor of agricultural engineering at Ohio State University, said he thinks being part of the coalition will help farmers understand how data is used and can be stored and protected.

"We feel very strongly by engaging in ADC it helps move our Extension services forward," Shearer said.

Mary Kay Thatcher, a lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, helped organize the initial coalition as Farm Bureau sought to understand the importance of "big data" efforts to farmers. She also sees the universities helping further educate farmers on these various tools.

"This partnership of land grants will provide a necessary step in this process," Thatcher said.

Jeremy Wilson, a farmer from Illinois and an agricultural software expert, said from a grower perspective a repository will help consolidate information and build a central archive for yield, soil profiles and input information such as fertilizer recommendations.

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Chris Clayton