This week’s topic in “The Big Data Confusion” series touches on the importance of data ownership. According to the Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data, “We believe farmers own information generated on their farming operation. However, it is the responsibility of the farmer to agree upon data use and sharing with other stakeholders that have an economic interest, such as a tenant, landowner, cooperative, agriculture technology provider (ATP), etc. The farmer contracting with the ATP is responsible for ensuring that only the data they own or have permissions to use is included in the account with the ATP.” While it seems that the utilization of data from a farm management aspect is a helpful idea, the problem occurs when it’s time to determine who owns that data and who can use it for their own benefit. According to Farm Bureau, knowing who owns the data is not very straightforward or easy to determine.
A recent report from the online food and agriculture investment platform, AgFunder, indicated that 2015 agriculture technology investment was $4.6B nearly doubling the $2.4B in 2014. Big data can provide opportunities for farmers and others in agriculture but uncertainty, mostly expressed as skepticism and mistrust, remains at the grassroots level. There is belief that data can be manipulated, sold, and used by others. Big data may significantly affect many aspects of the agricultural industry, but the full extent and nature of its eventual impact remains uncertain.
It is important for growers to think about how their data can be used and controlled. From landowner to tenant, to crop sharing, to commercial applicators, many scenarios exist where knowing who owns that data may be unclear. The companies who have signed on to the Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data document realize how these various scenarios affect farming operations across the country. Like all other principles highlighted in the Farm Bureau document, the devil is in the details. By making sure that contracts, leases and agreements are explicit, growers can have a clear understanding of who owns the data; ownership designates control. However, ownership and access are two different elements of data.