A New Era in Farming is Underway

September 2, 2014

After covering the John Deere and Case IH media events within the last two weeks, as well as one put on The Climate Corp. at the Farm Progress Show last week, I can’t help but think what a revolution agriculture is going through.

When the full potential of precision farming technology and big ag data fully intersect it will truly transform this industry. I believe it will impact farming and the farm equipment business as much or more than Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1794 or Cyrus McCormick’s unveiling of the mechanical reaper in 1831.

They say that the first American Ag Revolution occurred from 1862-75 with the change from hand power to horses. And the second came in 1945-70 with the change from horses to tractors. I’m not sure when the historians will exactly mark the beginning of the precision farming era, but it’s here.

As we watch this new era of farming emerge, probably the most talked about subject is who owns and who will control the data that is created from farming operations. Data has been called the “currency and raw material of the digital age.” Who owns it would seem to be pretty straightforward, but as Aaron Ault points out, some companies are complicating this issue far more than they should.

Ault is a farmer in north central Indiana who is currently working about 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans and about 3,000 head of beef cattle. He’s also a computer engineer who is the senior research engineer for the Open Ag Technology and Systems group at Purdue Univ. He’s heading up the Open Ag Data Alliance (OADA).

“With the mission to ensure farmers have full data access, security and privacy, OADA: Will operate with a farmer-focused approach through a central guiding principle that each farmer owns data generated or entered by the farmer, their employees or by machines performing activities on their farm.”

I had the opportunity to speak with John Lagemann, Deere’s senior vice president of ag & turf sales & marketing for much of the world, during Deere’s new product introduction in Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago. When I asked him who owns the data the farmer generates, he said, “We believe the customer need to have their data secured and customers need to control the data.” When I reiterated my question about ownership, he emphasized that “control” was the key word.

When the same question was asked during the Case IH event at their center in Nevada, Iowa, on August 25, they were prepared with a written “Data Ownership & Data Access Guiding Principles.”

The written statement makes it clear that the customer both controls and owns his data. “The evolution of precision technologies has created the need for better data access methods and raised the importance of customer-controlled and customer-owned data. Case IH has established guidelines and principles related to data ownership and access to address these needs.”

I’m not sure if there’s a difference between “own” and “control,” but the point is it’s the farmer who must have final say on who has access to his equipment and farming data.

Ault says, based on early experience with the whole data thing, farmers have a right to be concerned. “The reasons that farmers are worried about the privacy issues today is because there are generally surprised by what they find in the terms of service that they didn’t read when they signed them. Myself included,” he says.

He goes on to say, “The central guiding principal of OADA is that each farmer owns the data generated by the farmer, employees or machines performing activities on their farm. He gets to say where data goes. I mean if Google Drive told you that, yeah we’ll let you put you’re tax spreadsheets or your tax information up in our system, but we’re not really going to say if we’re going to sell it to Fox News or something and you’ll see it on the news next week as to how much money you made last year. Nobody here would use Google Drive.”

This, in a nutshell, should be the final message that dealers and manufacturers take away from the data privacy debate. If the farmer “owns” his information, and if he trusts his dealer and/or manufacturer enough to share his data with them, then he considers them as “trusted” advisors.

If not, he’s probably going to be looking for a new dealer and/or equipment supplier. This new era in agriculture represents a big opportunity for equipment dealers. Take advantage of it to further cement relationships with your customers by building on the trust they already have in you.