Big questions about Big Data

Buckeye Farm News

“Overwhelming” is the word most farmers use in describing the rapid changes in technology and what is being called “Big Data,” says an expert who studies data applications. But the agriculture community needs to embrace these change to continue to thrive.

“For some, Big Data is a little scary because you can’t get your arms around it and it’s hard to describe. The reality is once you understand it, it’s just data,” said Matt Bechdol, founder and president of GeoSilos, an Indiana-based consulting firm that studies data applications and analyzing technologies for precision agriculture. He will be talking about Big Data during OFBF’s Trends and Issues Conference March 27. 

The collection of agricultural data by satellites, aerial maps, yield monitors and other methods is happening more across the country and changing how farmers run their businesses, he said. At the same time, Big Data is causing concern about data privacy, security and ownership.

“Every farmer needs to think about why he shares data and what the opportunities and consequences are,” Bechdol said. “When talking about sharing data, it implies ownership and control. Well, who owns the data? There is no clear answer.”

At American Farm Bureau’s annual meeting, delegates adopted new policy on Big Data, saying the information should remain the property of the farmer and be protected. Members believe companies have an obligation to fully disclose how they use data, compensate farmers when information is shared with third parties and prevent such information from being subject to federal Freedom of Information Act requests.

Bechdol, who has a farm in Indiana, said the agriculture community needs to have a “calm conversation” about sharing and using Big Data.

“If we let fear get in the way, we will hold back innovation and technology. We have to find a balance,” he said.The agriculture community is continuing to move toward a data driven environment and the technology advances will be more rapid than in the past, Bechdol said.

“We’ve been doing precision ag for 10 to 15 years and what we’re talking about will occur on a much shorter term. We’ve got to be paying attention to it now,” he said. “There’s a healthy dose of fear right now and that’s healthy as long as we continue to ask the right questions because there’s a lack of clarity and as long as we continue to move forward.”

In addition to Big Data, other topics covered at Ohio Farm Bureau’s Trends and Issues Conference will include farmers’ freedom to operate and the role of Ohio State University as a land-grant institution.  The conference will be held March 27 at the Fawcett Center in Columbus. Learn more by contacting David White at 614-246-8261 or [email protected].

Lynn Snyder 

Lynn Snyder is senior director of communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.

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