Data ownership, transparency concerning to farmers

Hearing features testimony on potential benefits of advancements in agricultural technology and collection and utilization of data in farming.

Managing big data from new technologies for the nation’s farmers and ranchers continues to be a growing topic. Not only will this help boost farm productivity, but advancements in digital analytics can improve how producers feed their communities and conserve natural resources.

The Senate Commerce Committee's subcommittee on consumer protection, product safety, insurance and data security convened a hearing, titled "Technology in Agriculture: Data-Driven Farming," that examined the potential benefits of advancements in agricultural technology and the collection and utilization of data in farming.

Kansas wheat farmer Justin Knopf, vice president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers and a board member of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), testified at the hearing on his own behalf.

In his remarks, Knopf discussed how he collects and utilizes data to improve his farming practices. He stated that the "obvious benefit of data" is to help farmers improve their management decisions. With the world population projected to grow to more than 9.1 billion people in 2050, Knopf argues that farmers will need to rely more on data and technological advancements to produce more food on less land and with fewer inputs.

In response to questioning on how he analyzes the data, Knopf, the sole farmer witness, said some farmers are very passionate about their data, very passionate about precision agriculture and want to be very hands on in that process; there are also the people who are very passionate about the ownership and transparency of the data and want an honest server in their office.

He said farmers are on a spectrum based on age demographics: The older generation is more private about their data and not willing to share it, whereas the younger generation grew up with smartphones and with Google tracking them all the time, even telling them things about themselves that they didn’t know already, so they’re more used to sharing data.

Knopf said he is in the middle. He has an agronomic background from Kansas State University, he has one full-time employee who also is an agronomist and he does most of his data analysis in house. However, he noted that his data are stored in a software system that is web based and subscription based and said "that was a big change for us three to four years ago." He told the committee members that "transitioning the data from being stored in-house to web based ... is somewhat of an uncomfortable step, because you feel like you’re losing control, and that’s why the transparency is so important.”

Following the hearing, NAWG president Gordon Stoner said while new ways to collect and utilize valuable data are found, the ownership interests and rights of farmers must be protected. “Data must be used to help farmers improve their management practices and not misused or misconstrued by those who are not aligned with our interests," Stoner noted.

"Data is a valuable tool for Kansas wheat farmers, and future legislation regarding data and its ownership is a pressing matter for farmers around the country," said Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. "Justin Knopf is a cutting-edge farmer who realizes the importance of data and the significance of farmers retaining ownership of the data gathered on their farm."

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