Policy & Politics
Proprietary Information Generated from Precision Ag Technologies (national)
AFBF Policy Development
Monsanto is piloting the Integrated Farming Services (IFS) precision farming system now that the company has purchased the Illinois firm Precision Planting. The planting technology platform specializes in controlling seed spacing and depth during planting, adjusting seeding rate by soil type. Monsanto also has an alliance with Raven Technology on John Deere equipment only that would allow for precision planting of Monsanto seeds. The IFS system allows producers to combine Monsanto’s seed genetics with the Monsanto crop protection products that work best with their soil types. Agronomic specialists will provide more site-specific agronomic advice and Monsanto’s plant breeders will learn more about how their genetics respond to specific soil types, micro-climates and cultural practices. Farmers will pay a fee for this service, and then IFS will help farmers with their variable-rate seeding and fertilizer applications. Farmers can use tablet computers (such as iPads) and other mobile devices to access and store data on remote servers via the Internet, a practice commonly called “cloud computing.” Such technological developments have created questions about the extent to which companies like Monsanto would own the gathered data, and how they could use it.
Similar to Monsanto’s program, the company Machinery Link is offering real-time yield estimates of USDA’s final yield projection based on clients’ harvest-monitor data. While USDA surveys a sample of producers within the major crop production region, Machinery Link clients cover a broader area. Machinery Links will provide a “realtime” estimate of projected national yield by using client yield monitor data and comparing to past relationships between the county, state and national yields. Clients can then use this information to make marketing and risk management decisions based on Machinery Link’s yield projections much earlier than those released by USDA. The data the IFS program or Machinery Link’s services uses must be rigorously analyzed before it is useful. The potential risk for farmers is that input companies will have better near real-time information that could be used to effectively reduce a farmer’s profitability or to take advantage of the markets.
While improved technology has the potential to help farmers become more profitable, have we ensured that the information provided to those companies is secure? Will there be confidentiality clauses included in each contract that protects the farmer as much as the company?
Even if there are adequate confidentiality clauses, is there concern that one or more of these companies might use the data they collect and aggregate to take advantage of that market knowledge, whether through pricing for inputs and machinery or in the commodity markets? How can we ensure that does not happen?
If farmers are indeed providing data to a third party, should producers be paid for that information?
Is there a role for Farm Bureau to ensure that sensitive information like soil fertility, yields and production practices, as well as personal or enterprise-specific information, is protected?
Do farmers participating in these services or programs understand that once the information is provided to an outside party, it is almost impossible to retrieve? Do the benefits outweigh the potential dangers?
Should Farm Bureau serve as a data clearinghouse? Could this become a service/benefit for farmer members?
Could a farmer share his or her data with Farm Bureau members, in return for access to other farmers’ information?