Big data is changing agriculture, moving towards the so-called “precision agriculture”.
Almost all new agricultural machinery is equipped with sensors that monitor the field. Drones are taking photos of the field to map their growth.
Traditional technology producers, such as John Deere, are equipping tractors with sensors and offering cloud based analytics to farmers based on these data.
New agri-tech startups are gathering data and providing data services for precision agriculture.
the real potential is what happens when the data from thousands of tractors on thousands of farms is collected, aggregated, and analysed in real time.
But who owns these data? Who can share them and analyse them? Typically these data are gathered by sensors in the equipment and managed directly by the ATPs. Monsanto’s equipment generates about seven gigabytes of data per acre.
It is not clear to what extent farms own these data, and to what extent ATPs and other third parties can access and reuse the data. Contracts are difficult to interpret and understand by the farmers.
My impression is that there are players with competing interests: farms who want to use these data to increase productivity; ATPs who can manage and merge datasets from many farmers to improve their services and expand their business; and third parties such as startups which could use data held by ATPs to develop new services.
In the US, there is a Agriculture Data Coalition which aims at putting farmers in control of the data; there is even a transparency evaluator that helps farmers assess whether their contracts put them in control of the data. There is also an interesting global agriculture open data initiative.
Some questions emerge:
- Who owns the data today? who controls access?
- Should these data be controlled by the farmers, just as the MIDATA initiative has done for banking data?
- Are farmers equipped with skills and market power to understand the contracts and negotiate with ATPs?
- Are ATPs likely to use these data to expand into new segments of the value chain such as farming and data analytics?
In other words, is the market efficient?