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Farmers Own Their Data!

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  • While farm and ranch data may be of value to others, a system and architecture that allow for control and tracking of producer data is needed, through Integration of data into a farm level data ecosystem.
  • Farmer and rancher data ownership applies to both pre- and post- algorithmic processing.
  • Farm- and ranch-generated data has value on and off the farm and the need to mark ownership of the data is imperative so it can be tracked and tolled.

Let us build the right analogy.

Data has value.  Some are even calling data the “new oil”, but farm and ranch data ownership should be seen more like Mineral Rights.  We need to begin to have a broader analogy that looks at data more as we would minerals that are contained within and across the land we own. As with any rare-earth minerals, it comes down to a couple of things to really be able to tap into its value, which are extraction, refinement, and transformation costs and then its ultimate value in the marketplace.

With conventional mineral rights, you can own the land that has minerals under it, but in some cases, not the mineral rights to extract it. That means you can’t access the minerals and other entities can. With data being the new sought-after minerals, it’s metaphorically under our farm, coming in many different “lodes” from across the operation. We must begin to mine, access, and extract it, and there are two options in doing so:

  1. Give those mineral rights away to the food supply chain and service industry who can reap the mining investment and refinement of the data for intelligence. This will give farmers access to insights and products that help them manage their animals and overall farm business better, or
  2. Producers themselves invest in their mineral rights, build the infrastructure to mine, extract and refine for a value, greater independent intelligence, and control. Exploiting your data ownership rights helps the future success of your business. Isn’t that what made the tycoons of the 20th century?

Our picks, hardhats, denim, drills, and trucks are the software tools developed by Google, Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, which are American companies. Using these platforms and their arsenal of digital tools along with other open-source tools we are going to build our shafts and tunnels, then we can begin to extract our mineralized data. With these same tools, we will build our refinement centers, which will allow us to smelt raw data into a refined valuable product that the business owner and the marketplace want. These again are the same tools that can be deployed as our rail network to get this mined data to the ports and final marketplace.

So what’s the problem with data ownership in agriculture today?

We are still in the first generation of data systems, sensors, and tools on-farm, even though today they play a key role in how we operate, but these technologies can still be leveraged even further and to greater advantage. The generation of tools right now as we know are primarily disparate systems, across many dashboards, with data sitting across many servers on and off-farm, sometimes in many different global locations, and with many service suppliers having access. The system languages, output, and overall interfaces have often been difficult to master and interpret at the farm level, with no real continuity between providers.

Farmers’ reliance on highly skilled workers for insights and support is also becoming a problem. Where consultants and academics must read, handle and process data, making it hard for the farm team to see this digital perspective when we need them to be evolving their digital and data skills, while also making the user experience more intuitive. We need all the farm staff to see or imagine where the ones and zeros are coming from when we look at our business, our herd, and down to the individual animal and acre of land. Today on many farms we have a low level of digital literacy, putting the farmer at greater risk with respect to data security, data quality, and data ownership issues.

Where are US food production and farm data going? Are we ok with the potential scenarios where foreign-made agritech is taking and storing US data outside the US? What do that data and intelligence give those companies? Could we in the livestock agriculture sector wake up and have a Cambridge Analytica incident on our hands (a data analytics firm with offices in London and New York City, had unauthorized access to more than 50 million Facebook profiles). The downfall of a new mineral type of commodity is that they are sought after for both economic and in some cases even political advantage.

The farmer is the data owner but has no way of saying the data is right or wrong, to validate their system or data independent of the supplier or manufacturer if there are bad or inaccurate inputs and resulting output. These are all things we need to know so that we can be confident in these digital tools and their accuracy, otherwise, these tools will be redundant. Importantly, this includes the ability to see who is using your data and what it is being used for. The inability to track where data is going and what it is being used for is a huge security risk and diminishes its value.

Let’s set the record straight, producer data ownership includes pre-and post-algorithmic processing, this means that the data feeding into algorithms or machine learning (ML) is the producers’ data, and then once the algorithm or machine learning has processed the data, this is also owned by the producer. The rest of the sector is just going to have to work around this and the technology is there to do so. This is an opportunity for the service industry to capitalize on AI and ML intellectual property in their areas of expertise, which is a whole new service field and sector.

Without the initial producer data, even if the algorithm exists, there would be no insights, derived from the original producer data. This post algorithmic processed data may also have a value, or greater value when added to other data, and producers need to be sure that they get a piece of that “insight pie”.

What is the potential value of farm and ranch level data? An alternative example where value of data Is being derived.

“23 and Me” partnering with GlaxoSmithKline, where the pharma giant made a $300 million investment into exploring novel medicines from their genetic data, the same anonymized data that their individual customers paid $100+ for the same information that is non-anonymized. If we further explore the possibility of livestock, farming, and production data, it has huge potential value towards One Health and One Health technologies, if producers contribute their data. The supply chain, government, academics, and private research also have an interest in accessing these data. Shouldn’t there be royalties or other compensation to farmers for their data, that is IP, even if it’s of lesser value as an independent farm’s data, but when put with lots of farm’s data or built up over time, it becomes very powerful.

Remember the value of the individual piece of data is low, but collectively when we have a diverse system of billions and trillions of data points working for us, that’s when it can have huge value both on and off the farm.

For example, carbon crediting systems that are predicated on data (measuring it to manage it) practices, along with ensuring that data quality is maintained and centralized, is a potential future strategy to incentivize a move towards regenerative agriculture, while allowing the farmer to secure and maintain ownership over their data resources.

Amazon and Apple are moving into human health, by capturing more data about people, that will allow them to get to diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive analytics. We need to begin to deploy similar strategies on our livestock and natural world data. Mastering ownership at the farm level means we can equally benefit from the digital revolution, that feeds into OneHealth and this is possible today. This does mean it requires the deployment of the tools that Silicon Valley has developed and tailoring them for our specific objectives, needs, and complexities of the livestock sector.  

A Solution to Data Ownership

Centralizing and integrating your data systems at the farm level is taking ownership of your data. Before we give it away to companies to reap the benefits, we should mark our ownership of that data so we can track where it’s going and how it is being used.  

Cybersecurity and data protection is critical if we are going to outwardly connect our farm data and maintain its value. Once together and marked with ownership we can connect the database to the needs of the supply chain. The supply chain may want to see group level, or an average of the herd so that their standards are met, and the consumer confidence can be given to the resulting products. But the choice of what level of data, how anonymized, and what metrics should be down to the data owner.  

This involves advancing team training at higher digital literacy levels or you yourself becoming digitally interested. Deploying data collection strategies based on the individual asset (cow, calf, acre, etc.), and basically getting a handle on all the data systems you have, which is your farm or ranches metadata. Support, training tools, and online videos and courses are advancing so that this knowledge gap can be bridged cost-effectively, from beginner to advanced users. Start the process by auditing your current farm data systems yourself; understand what specific data systems you have on-farm, what they do, and what data they collect, then rank the data on how critical it is to your decision-making for your business.

Farmer & Rancher data ownership and value “take-homes”

If farmers really want to extract the true value of their minerals [data], they need to stay focused on the integration of data for greater intelligence, the quality of their data, creating ownership; controlling and tracking their data and finally securing their data. These are what will increase the value of data for business decision support on-farm and off. 

Ensuring that data ownership is maintained at the farm level, is what is going to truly create value, that can help farmers financially, but also realize our core aims of sustainability, and animal welfare – a “life worth living for all animals.” Exploiting farm-level data ownership has the huge potential value in helping rural economies, expanding rural wealth and small business growth, while also creating many new jobs that will further contribute to rural economic development.

We all want the entire sector to benefit from the value of farm and ranch data, but we must be sure that the data owner has control over the data, see where it’s going, and who has access to it, and the ability to turn on and off access, while labeling or tokenizing the data with correct ownership when used externally to the farm. Let’s get this system or data ecosystem built at the producer level first and then we can connect to appropriate parties within the supply chain while giving them the appropriate data of quality for their needs.

We want producers to be part of this digital revolution and the owners who exploit that ownership will be the future leaders and tycoons, just look at Silicon Valley (both the good and the bad). But just like mineral rights you need to maintain the right to extract those minerals out of the ground. Data ownership is your mineral rights.

Once the infrastructure for ownership is developed, this is where the value of data for the farmer and rancher can really be refined, mixing minerals to create new composites of even greater value.

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