Using and owning farm data

A recent survey by Farm Credit Canada (FCC) regarding agriculture information technology has revealed results that most would have anticipated before checking the boxes on a survey form.

Farmers have traditionally been quick adopters of technology from the time of the first steel plows, through to the arrival of tractors replacing horses, to zero-till farming, and the use of global positioning systems.

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Information technology is no different in terms of its usage on the farm. It is just another tool to help producers be more productive and more profitable.

But, there is an issue tied to information technology that is not tied to deciding on a new seed variety, or an air seeder with some innovative technology new to the industry. The difference is what the information gathered on an individual farm might be used for off of that farm, and by whom.

In a release FCC noted its “Vision Panel survey shows 25 per cent of the more than 2,000 Canadian farmers questioned have become less comfortable sharing data with outside organizations – such as suppliers – over the past two years, while 58 per cent say their comfort level hasn’t changed.”

So it’s not surprising the survey also showed “71 per cent of those surveyed said data treatment is “very” or “extremely” important when selecting an agriculture technology provider.”

“There is no doubt that privacy protection and control over where and how farm data is used is a top-of-mind issue for a majority of producers,” said Fred Wall, FCC marketing vice-president in the release.

Again, this can’t be seen as a huge surprise by the industry.

A producer can be accepting of the huge impact large mega national corporations have in terms of supporting agriculture on a large number of fronts, but some caution in terms of how a person’s specific farm data is used has to be in the back of many producers’ minds.

“At the same time, most see the benefits of using technology to improve their operations, reduce paperwork and help them make better decisions in a growing and dynamic industry,” said Wall.

In fact, 69 per cent of those surveyed believe technology can increase efficiency, lower costs and result in better yields, while 65 per cent believe it can improve management control and decision-making, noted the release.

What the results indicate is a desire by producers to be aware of just how data collected on their farm might be disseminated and utilized beyond making specific decisions on their farms.

That is a challenge for the information technology sector as once something is digitized and send out into the world tracking it can obviously be challenging.

Of course some of the onus falls to producers too to make wise decisions when choosing software and service providers.

There is undoubtedly much to learn in terms of accumulated data from a variety of on-farm sources, but controls are also clearly needed to ensure privacy and personal knowledge retention.

Calvin Daniels is Editor with Yorkton This Week.

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