The Demand for Data
As is seen in many other sectors like manufacturing, mining and logistics, data is a key driver of efficiency and productivity gains in agriculture. Records such as yields, rain fall, plant data, fertiliser inputs etc. have been kept by many growers for a long period of time already, but we are increasingly faced with the question of how to utilise this data.
Similar to other data, we can collect and measure things such as the growth of your child, your sporting achievements or eating habits, agricultural data only becomes relevant once we can compare it to other data - the fact that you can run 100 meters in 9.58 seconds only becomes interesting when nobody else is able to do so. For growers this means that the need for a standard method of collecting and storing on-farm data is more present than ever in order to enable analyses and comparisons to be performed.
The inherent problem with agricultural data however is that a large percentage of this data is geospatial information, so the latitude and longitude gets recorded as part of the data. Where most other types of data can be anonymised, this is often not possible for agricultural data as the data would lose its value without the geographical location attached to it.
Translating this back to growing crops: while it is obvious that the next big gains in the paddock will come from data, this will not happen if we don't have a large and open data set available for analysis.
However, if growers perceive the risk that their data will be used for malicious purposes as too high, they will not share their data - even if that means that the industry in general will have to forfeit the potential gains. Whilst it is unclear what malicious purposes the data would be used for, alarm bells ring in the back of every growers head when the thought of his data coming into the possession of a bank, insurance company or other organisation in the industry arises. The idea that a business will base their risk profile on actual data or charges them for certain in-crop decisions made, is enough to make growers think twice about sharing data.
The topic of sharing agricultural data and how this process could be streamlined was discussed at the GrowAg forum I attended in Albury, NSW recently. Whilst many different ideas were floated in our discussions as to who should control the data, administer it and who should be able to access it, everyone agreed that a legal framework for data ownership needs to be established first. It is currently unknown who actually owns data as agricultural data can, uniquely, be placed under either real data, personal data or intellectual data depending on how you classify it, as agricultural data has components of all three types of data. So while growers like to say "I own my farm data" and industry providers like to say "the farmer owns his data", this has not been confirmed or tested in court and as such is still a grey area.
Before growers are confident to start sharing the data they collect for comparative purposes, they need to be able to understand what the risks are of doing so. So whilst it is very popular to say that innovation needs to be driven by farmers and the private sector, there is still a big role here for the public sector to ensure that the legislative frameworks are drawn up in such a fashion that provides the confidence to growers to initiate this innovation.
If you are currently collecting data on your farm and are unsure whether you are exposing yourself to unnecessary risks, or are wondering how you can start utilising this data today, don't hesitate to get in touch with me.
Written by: Reinder Prins. Reinder Prins is the market development manager for Cotton Growers Services and as such is responsible for the Precision Agriculture initiatives within the organisation. Reinder can be contacted on +61 427 - 808 489 or via e-mail on