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Security

6 reasons why farmers are losing sleep over big data security

Should we share farmers' big data security concerns about capture, ownership, and usage? To answer that question, learn why farmers are worried.

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Farmer Chris Jones demonstrating how precision technology works.

Farmers see the advantages of big data capture and analysis. They also see what happens when big data is turned over to third-party vendors — Agricultural Technology Providers (ATP) in their case — without any thought given to who retains ownership of the data and what it can and cannot be used for.

To their credit, farmers and ATPs decided it was in everyone's best interest to work together. Back in 2014, the American Farm Bureau Federation, principally Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations along with members of organizations representing farmers and several notable ATPs such as John Deere, DuPont Pioneer, and Dow AgroSciences came to an agreement, leading to the creation and signing of Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data (PDF).

One of the most interesting tenets of the document discusses who owns the data:

"We believe farmers own information generated on their farming operations. However, it is the responsibility of the farmer to agree upon data use and sharing with the other stakeholders with an economic interest, such as the tenant, landowner, cooperative, owner of the precision agriculture system hardware, and/or ATP etc. The farmer contracting with the ATP is responsible for ensuring that only the data they own or have permission to use is included in the account with the ATP."

This type of cooperation appears to be unique to the agriculture industry.

SEE: How big data is going to help feed nine billion people by 2050

Fast forward two years

Katie Hancock is an agricultural commodity marketing consultant for Brock Associates. Besides understanding the marketing side of farming, Hancock, who with her husband manages a 5,000-acre farming operation, has a good idea of what's going on in the fields.

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Katie Hancock
Image: The Farm Journal
Hancock decided to look at what, if anything, has changed since the consortium came to their agreement. In her post 7 Data Security Concerns Farmers Can't Ignore for The Farm Journal, Hancock starts out saying data security is still a huge concern among farmers. "Precision technology makes us the best we've ever been at what we do, but the integrity of our data remains a question," writes Hancock. "It's important to discuss why we are hesitant to embrace information technology."

As to why farmers are reluctant to embrace IT, Hancock offers the following reasons.

1: Self-sufficiency

To survive, farmers are becoming ever more sophisticated; besides understanding agriculture, they are skilled in business and digital technology. Hancock suggests that diverse acumen is why farmers are not impressed with the analysis results they are seeing. She adds, "Farmers know their land better than anyone, so can this (externally-analyzed data) be valuable?"

2: Privacy

Farmers typically know everyone they deal with personally, and prefer conducting business on a one-to-one basis. "Some share general practices with neighbors and advisers, but nothing as detailed as acre-by-acre data information, much less with a complete stranger," writes Hancock.

3: Competition

Hancock is concerned about the risk of data, such as crop yields, getting into the wrong hands, being made public, and used against the party providing the information.

4: Little or no say

Precision farming requires a significant outlay of time and money — upwards of $30,000 per tractor. Hancock says farmers, after that kind of investment are frustrated when they have no say about where data from the installed equipment is sent and how it is used.

5: Detail

Hancock is concerned about the amount and types of data being collected. "Beyond location or production, precision technology is tracking inputs, speed, and time," she writes. "There are things being tracked we don't even know about or consider valuable. It goes beyond a good or bad spot in a field."

6: Distrust

Farmers in today's world, writes Hancock, distrust outside influences they feel are unjustly attacking them. And if that is the case, big data captured from farms might add even more fuel to that fire.

What's the answer?

Hancock is not down on data technology — it is and will continue to help farmers. Her concern is the cost. "From the outside it's easy to think 'Wow, those farmers are paranoid,' but very few business owners in any sector would want to hand over this volume of detail," notes Hancock. "Data technology is a precious jewel and farmers will continue to protect their investment in it."

A question that might need to be asked is: If farmers are so concerned about big data security, why aren't the rest of us?

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Information is my field...Writing is my passion...Coupling the two is my mission.

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