Rod Conner, president and CEO of AgGateway, the eBusiness organization for agriculture, was asked questions about AgGateway’s function and also the organization’s data privacy and security standards for protecting proprietary information. His answers follow:
Q. What is AgGateway?
We’re a non-profit, broad based industry organization dedicated to the mission of promoting, enabling and expanding eBusiness in agriculture. We’re focused on helping farmers, retailers and their supply chain partners reduce the cost and frustration of exchanging data between systems, by developing the means and tools to support them.
The organization itself is governed and run by member volunteers with the help of a very small support staff. Members work through a system of councils that are specific to industry segments – so, for example, the Crop Nutrition, Crop Protection, Precision Ag, and Grain councils, and the like. Currently we have eight councils working on eConnectivity plans and projects for the ag industry. Each council operates fairly autonomously under the leadership of its industry volunteer chair, vice-chair and members.
Q. Data privacy and security are a big concern to everyone in agriculture, and your reference to exchanging data between systems might concern some people. Is AgGateway doing anything on the data security topic?
Yes, this is an important focus area for us. We have a data privacy and security working group that in the next few weeks will publish a white paper that examines the historical, legal and regulatory perspectives on the issue, provides key terminology and principles, and in general gives a roadmap of how to proceed in establishing security, protection and privacy standards and procedures.
Q. A new standards organization called Open Ag Data Alliance or OADA was announced recently. How do their plans compare with what AgGateway is doing?
Looking just at their mission statement, there are areas of overlap with AgGateway. We’ve had some preliminary discussion with them, and we’ve encouraged any participants of theirs who are not already members to join AgGateway, so they can add their contributions to the industry through a broad-based industry group.
Standards are not developed to give any one group a competitive advantage. Instead, they are designed to free companies from the cost of managing proprietary standards, so companies can use their resources to drive innovation and create new value for agriculture.
AgGateway has an excellent track record of building consensus in the industry. We want to bring the best minds and best ideas to the party, to achieve eBusiness implementation for the benefit of agriculture.
Q. As additional basic information about AgGateway and its potential impact in the ag industry, how many members does AgGateway have—and who are those members?
AgGateway has seen tremendous growth since its inception in late 2005 – reflecting the growing interest the ag industry has in getting trading partners connected electronically. We use a broad definition for “trading partner” – from precision ag where farmers want to move their data from their equipment to the software they need to analyze it – all the way to electronic invoicing within the supply chain. We currently have more than 200 members – that’s a 20% increase over our membership this time last year, and almost a 50% increase over where we were two years ago.
Our members are primarily ag retailers, leading manufacturers of ag inputs (such as crop nutrition, crop protection, seed, etc.), and companies that provide software, data products and services to the industry. We also have about a dozen association members, representing everything from standards organizations to industry associations related to each of the councils. You can find a full list of our members on our website, www.AgGateway.org. We have regular participation from and communication with the USDA and USDA agencies, as well. Currently, there is limited participation from academia, but we look forward to expanding our relationships in that area in the near future.
Q. Tell us a few more things people might not know about AgGateway.
First, people might want to know about the open, collaboration-driven process that we use within AgGateway, which has led to many great successes for our members and their partners or customers. Our members come together to solve business problems by agreeing on eBusiness standards and how they can be implemented across the industry to benefit not only their respective companies but also the industry as a whole.
Second, we work with other established standards organizations where appropriate, and incorporate the best work that is already in the public domain, so that our efforts can be focused on implementation.
Third, people may not realize that all of the standards and formats created by AgGateway – the work of our volunteer councils – can be used internationally. And once completed, those standards are all publicly accessible to everyone, for the shared good of the industry. There is no fee to access or use AgGateway standards. We want the industry as a whole to benefit, so it only makes sense that we have open standards for everyone to access and use.
In the end it’s about implementation. Standards are the necessary foundation of what we do, but they are of little use without common implementation. So then, AgGateway’s main focus is on actually getting the work into the field and in use by the agricultural community.
Q. Precision ag has been a big focus for AgGateway. It’s been a couple of years now since AgGateway’s Standardized Precision Ag Data Exchange (SPADE) project got underway. What kind of progress is being made to standardize data for everyone from farmers to crop agronomists to equipment manufacturers?
AgGateway’s Precision Ag Council has several initiatives underway. These include field operations, precision water management, telematics and crop insurance/compliance reporting. More than 90 companies are participating in the Precision Ag Council.
One of the Precision Ag Council’s projects, SPADE, is addressing the problem of moving data from machine systems to farm management information systems (FMIS) and to other FMIS, so the farmer and ag retailer can improve decision-making and improve productivity. It is a complex problem and the participants have made great progress since the work began. We have a very dedicated, cross-industry group working on SPADE, including equipment manufacturers, ag input manufacturers, ag retailers and software companies. More than 30 companies are contributing to the SPADE project.
As the standards identified and developed within SPADE are implemented, growers and ag retailers will be able to easily move data between software programs and systems to securely share data. This will simplify mixed-fleet field operations and improve decision making. It will facilitate crop insurance reporting and field or crop-scale revenue management. SPADE will also make it easier for growers to share data with their trusted advisors and other partners.
Several standards coming out of the project are nearly ready for publication and for use by all who need to exchange data in the ag industry. The team has completed a lot of work, with the initial focus on planting operations. The current focus – harvest and crop care – is nearing completion. They have also developed standard data exchange mechanisms (application programing interfaces) and the data elements needed for information to be moved.
The SPADE team initially identified the ISO 11783 international standard as the base for their work. They identified gaps and developed the enhancements required to meet the needs of the industry. As I mentioned above, we work with established standards organizations to assure we can implement globally – so a farmer in the USA, Europe, South America or elsewhere can get the value from our work. We have a formal relationship with AEF (Ag Electronics Foundation) and jointly submit enhancements to the ISO 11783 standard. We also work closely with GS1 (bar codes), ASABE (engineering) and others to assure things will work across all the platforms.