By Tom Collins
RIDGETOWN All data collected by high-tech farm equipment is being sent to satellites in the sky for research purposes, but farmers are concerned about who has access to that information.
In a day where many farmers are still private people, there is growing concern about how data from tractors, combines, and sprayers are being used. But theres nothing to worry about, assured Bob Ludwig, president of Boston-based Hale Group, a consultancy firm that develops marketing strategies for agribusinesses.
“Theres an agreement that farm data always belongs to the farmer,” said Ludwig from his Boston office. However, there are grey areas, he said. If a farmer rents land, or rents a tractor, who has the rights to that data: the farmer who owns the land and tractor, or the farmer who rents them for his own crops?
“The rules are still being written,” said Ludwig. “There are a host of unanswered questions. Were starting to make some progress on some of these, but they are by no means resolved.”
Ludwig spoke on the topic of big data, one of 45 topics at the Southwest Agricultural Conference in Ridgetown on Jan. 6 and 7.
While information is collected, farmers are the ones who are ultimately in control, said Ludwig. Using John Deere as an example, Ludwig said that company is collecting operating data for them to study and determine when parts wear out and how to design more efficient equipment.
However, none of the agronomic farm data collected by John Deere are used by anyone unless the farmer gives permission. To give permission, a farmer would need to log onto the John Deere website and fill out a form that allows a specific company access to the data. That list of potential users can be changed at any time.
That data also benefits the farmer, Ludwig said. Farmers are learning how to apply different rates of fertilizer on different parts of fields, and can estimate profitability plot by plot. Farmers are now treating farms as a series of very small plots instead of one big farm, he said.
“The potential is there to improve productivity,” he said. “Now we have the captive power to do some things we couldnt do 10 years ago.”