Data Mining in Agriculture

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Who owns the data?

By William “Bill” Glazner, CPA, CITP

By nature, human beings are collaborators. We work together to get things accomplished all the time. Farmers, ranchers, and agriculture professionals are no different – just think about your local Co-Op.  A version of cooperation is in the name!

Big Data, Bigger Impact
Something almost as prevalent as collaboration, today, is data collection. Whether it’s the grocery store, your cellphone and internet provider, or your farm implement dealer, they all have one thing in common: they know a lot about you.

Think about your local grocery store. By signing up for their rewards program or shopper’s card, you get a discount on groceries and the store gets your contact information as well as insight into your shopping habits. My local grocery store knows what brand of cereal I like, and as a result, they notify me when it’s on sale.  In this instance, it’s a win-win!

Data collection is a frequent topic on the news. There are certainly challenges, but data analytics doesn’t have to be a negative thing.

Data Analytics & Precision Farming
What if you could compare your farming operation with your peers in areas like performance, profitability, yield, marketing, cost control, return on equipment, or labor percentages? With the right data, you could benchmark yourself with other similar farming operations and make sure you’re following best practices that lead to higher profitability! There’s a lot of value in this data, and it can be a game-changer in agriculture.

Most of the farmers I speak to are interested in this kind of data but are concerned about safety and confidentiality.

Who Owns my Data?
For the most part, much of this data is already being collected by your vendors, but the question becomes, “Who owns it?”

If your equipment dealer or chemical vendor collects data about you and your operation, who owns the data? What if they adjust their business model and prices based on data from you and your peers?  What if they sell your data to another company to be able to market to you more effectively?

So, really, who owns your data? The answer to this question is still up for debate. There is a lot of grey area involved, and at this time there aren’t many rules to follow. Ultimately, lawmakers will need to put their heads together to answer this question and create guiding rules about the ethical and legal aspects. We’re not quite to the level of a grocery store rewards card yet, but we’re not far off.

Having data at our fingertips (that’s already been collected) can be a great benefit to farmers. We’re starting to see what data analytics in agriculture could look like, but a few kinks need to be worked out first.  I anticipate that we’ll hear much more about this topic in the months and years to come.

William “Bill” Glazner, CPA, CGMA, Partner, leads Adams, Brown, Beran & Ball, Chtd.’s Agriculture Industry niche. In addition to extensive research and analysis on emerging technologies in the Agriculture space, Bill has over 30 years of public accounting experience. He consults with ABBB’s agriculture clients on a wide variety of strategic issues. In addition, he manages the firm’s McPherson, KS office. For more information, contact Bill.