Data Security: Be Ready To Answer These Three Questions

In mid-February, an event put the spotlight on data privacy. Optics became too much to overcome as online discussions and Twitter threads alleged Climate Corporation and startup Tillable exchanged on-farm data without farmers’ permission—something both companies say did not happen. Nevertheless, Climate terminated its partnership with Tillable. 

Technology, its complexities and the pace of change are creating concern. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020, 61% of the general population says the pace of change in technology is moving too fast.

Perhaps the events as they unfolded in February shook farmer confidence, and perhaps farmers were never truly confident in their on-farm data being secure. 

The Farm Journal Pulse asked the following on March 6: “How confident are you in the security of your on-farm data?” And 643 farmers answered. Of those, 53% noted concern about data security. Less than 20% of respondents said they are confident their on-farm data are secure. 

Ag retailers, precision ag dealers and consultants are on the front lines with farmers as they weigh the risk and reward of using today’s technology platforms. 

What questions should you be prepared to answer? Terry Griffin with Kansas State University has worked to study the value of farm data as well as the challenges in sharing those data. 

“These data privacy concerns are real,” he says. “I think farmers will cringe clicking the ‘agree’ button on a company’s terms of service—at least pause a bit more now.”

He encourages farmers to ask three questions of whomever is working to get them to sign up for a data platform. You can prepare by being ready to answer: 

1. How many farms/fields/acres are in the data community today? 

2. What analytics from the community will benefit my farm? 

3. What data quality control standards are being used? 

Griffin says those questions help illuminate the value the data platform brings to an individual farmer as well as how farm data will be used, stored and secured. 

An poll asked: “What phrase best describes your discussions with farmer-
customers about on-farm data sharing?” The most popular response was “I think I do a good job explaining things, but I know farmers have a lot of questions.”

Data partnerships aim to bring streamlined products but also leave ambiguity. Todd Janzen, an attorney and administrator of Ag Data Transparent, says it is key for data privacy agreements to be easily understood. 

“Users should be able to point to areas in the terms of service they agreed to, and know exactly how their data is being transferred and used,” he says. “Additionally, as companies work together to connect their platforms, that word “partnership” creates a natural suspicion because it’s unclear what that means to the user.”

So how does this play out in the real world? One of the farmers who engaged in the Twitter dialogue about Climate and Tillable was Skip Klinefelter, who is also the founder of Linco Precision in El Paso, Illinois. He brings an interesting perspective as a farmer and a Climate FieldView dealer. 

“As a farmer, you have to pick your relationships better today than you used to,” he says. “No one can know it all–you have to form relationships with trusted advisors. And our philosophy at Linco is to sell our customers what they need when they need it at the quantity they need it—no more, no less.”

How Companies Emphasize Privacy

Climate Corporation: “Those of us at Climate, along with our dealer network, understand that we’re stewards of that data, and we take that role seriously. We regularly reinforce our guiding principles around data privacy with our dealer network, and the Knowledge Center provides an excellent training resource. It’s very clear that farmers control the flow of their data,” says John Raines, chief commercial officer, The Climate Corporation.

Corteva/Granular: “It starts with trust because the risk is what people think about the most. We strive to be leaders in terms of trust with growers, and early on, we said that the farmer is the owner of their data. In particular, we hold our customers’ financial data to the highest level, and nothing identifiable or aggregated can be shared with our parent company,” says Adam Litle, Granular’s senior vice president of revenue. For more:

John Deere: “John Deere provides ongoing training, education and communication with dealers and their staffs, including hosting conferences like Develop with Deere that brought together 700 dealers, software companies, ag service providers and others to share ideas and learn more about the latest digital tools, data security and ag applications. Visit to learn more,” says Laurel Caes, public relations manager for John Deere North American Agriculture.