Todd Janzen
Todd Janzen

I have spoken at a number of events this past few months about the legal issues arising from the transfer of ag data from the farm into cloud-based platforms managed by ag technology providers (ATPs). Moving data to the cloud is not for everyone, but what has surprised me is the similar complaints I hear from both “small” and “large” farms. This post explores those complaints and asks, who is big data really for, the small farm or large farm?

Here are typical examples of what I have heard, more than once: 

Small farmer (~500 acres):  Big data removes my competitive advantage.  As a small farmer, I know my fields each individually.  I know where the low spots are, where to change planting populations, and what crops grow better in each field. If my data is uploaded into a cloud for everyone to see, then anyone with that data can do just as well farming the ground that historically, only I knew how to farm. Why upload data to make it easier for someone to copy what I do?

Large farmer (~10,000 acres):  I already farm thousand of acres. I generate enough data on my acres that I don’t need to tap into aggregated databases to see patterns or learn what other farmers are doing.  I generate my own “big data.” I can benchmark one of my fields against another, compare hybrid varieties, and conduct my trials. Why give away a vast array of information to help other farmers catch up?  If I can raise more bushels per acre, I have an advantage when I am competing with my neighbor to buy that nearby field that is for sale.

Both farmers’ reluctance to aggregate with other farmers’ data is based upon the same fear—sharing data means losing a competitive advantage. Not surprisingly, this is the opposite view of nearly every ag technology provider, which promise to boost productivity when data is shared across farms. 

I think ultimately it will not matter the size of the farm.  The farmer who best understands their data relative to other farmers will be the one with the competitive advantage. Whether you like it or not, having the ability to understand ag data will be essential to being a successful farmer.

Who do you think big data benefits?