What Will Happen to My Data? Understanding Your Rights in Precision Agriculture

What Will Happen to My Data? Understanding Your Rights in Precision Agriculture

The use of precision agriculture-based decision making to determine fertilizer rates and hybrid types and planting rates is becoming more common, according to an article on the PennState Extension website.


However, with the increased use of precision agriculture and the collection of farm information comes questions regarding the ownership and rights of data.

In 2014, industry groups and precision ag technology providers came up with a series of principles guiding the ownership and usage of farm data. Signatories included the American Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers Association, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer, John Deere, CNH Industrial, GROWMARK, the Climate Division of Monsanto and others. Understanding those principles and how they affect your operation should be considered when using precision ag software or hiring precision ag services.

One of the principles agreed upon is that farmers retain ownership of the information generated on their farming operations. This means that as-planted maps, yield monitor outputs, soil testing data, or information gathered by electrical conductivity (Veris) mapping is the property of the farmer. It is then up to the farmer to determine if and how data is shared with software programs, consultants, or others wanting the use of their data.

Precision ag data may commonly be shared with crop consultants, equipment dealers, or providers of crop protection products to determine the success of products on your farm. While this type of data collection may be mutually beneficial to the farmer and the company (i.e., both may better know what works on your farm), a concern of this is that companies may use your data to leverage pricing for products that are proven to work on your farm. Additionally, the assumption that data generated on the farming operation is the property of the farmer may mean that things such as variable-rate fertilizer or planting recommendations or the creation of soil sampling zones may be the property of the technology provider and would be subject to the agreement between the farmer and provider. Also, since these recommendations may not be owned by the farmer means that one may not have the ability to transfer recommendations from one company or software platform to another.

The use of technology products like Monsanto’s Climate, or cloud-based GIS software like SST or FarmLogs is likely to be the most formal and defined. If you have signed up to use these products you likely entered into an End User License Agreement (whether you read and understood it or not) before using the program, in which you consent to the terms of that agreement before proceeding. Those agreements will specifically identify what the expectations of data privacy and usage are and your rights with those products. However, as farm equipment manufacturers enter into data-sharing agreements with technology providers the explanation of user licenses may rely on the equipment dealer and transferring the consent of those agreements to a second or third owner may be difficult.

Another agreed upon principle is that non-aggregated (individual) data will not be transferred to a third party without consent from the famer. What this does mean is that technology providers can send the statistical data based on groups of farms to a third party, as long as the original consent disclosure agreements are abided by. Additionally, the use of real-time data delivery to speculate on commodity markets is severely limited and companies will not be able to sell aggregated data to commodity traders.

What does this mean to you? Here are a couple scenarios of how the precision ag data principles may apply to your farm.

  • If you hire Precision Ag services on your operation, the raw collected data is yours. An example is Veris mapping provided on a per-acre fee. In addition to the paper or digital maps the data that is directly output from the Veris unit (commonly a shapefile) is yours. Although the raw data is likely the most important in terms of ownership, in speaking with precision service providers there are few farmers that are asking for raw data.
  • If you want to take that raw data from one company to another it should be in your right to do so. With those I have spoken with, all are willing to help farmers collect their data to be used by another company.
  • Although you own the data from your farm, processed data may not be yours. For example, a service provider may create management zones based on Veris mapping using a proprietary algorithm and recommend fertilizer application rates based on those zones. It is up to the agreement between the farmer and provider as whether that data can be taken somewhere else or if it is exclusive to the company that created those recommendations. However, if you have the raw data there is nothing keeping you from having a different consultant create similar zones and recommendations.
  • If you use a smartphone or tablet app or consultant-provided service to recommend or track the performance of products such as seed or crop protection products, your data may be collected and aggregated with similar data to determine the performance of those products, essentially providing “free” scientific or market research to those companies. In addition, it is possible that those recommendations may only be applied to the fields in which you paid for those recommendations, or in other words you can’t apply them to fields with similar soil types or fertility levels without paying for it.
  • Landlords may want access to precision data such as yield monitor data or soil fertility maps to assist in negotiating rent prices when the data is in their favor. According to the principles noted above, such data is the property of the farmer and sharing of that data is subject to the agreement between the farmer and landlord.

It is likely that farmers will be aiming at a moving target as new data platforms and uses for data come to market. However, the need to understand what data is yours and what belongs to precision technology providers will remain essential in knowing how data is shared and what you can and can’t do with agronomic recommendations.

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I believe the best approach would be that the farmer could give his/her consensus to share personal data, only if this data will be become publicly available, also for the research community. This mitigates or neutralizes the impact of big data collection at the hands of few large corporations which could then manipulate the market to their favours…