Big data can be useful to small farmers, but only if systems are put in place for various types of small farms to use it, a panel of farm activists said at a recent session on “harnessing” the data for small farmers. The event was sponsored by AGree, the organization on long-term agricultural policy.
A panel assembled by AGree on Sept. 27 said the first issue to be addressed is that there are so many different types of small farms.
Robert Blair, who farms 1,300 acres in Idaho, said that is a small farm in his part of the country and that a farmer’s computer may have the highest rate of return of any equipment a farmer buys these days. But there are challenges, partly because the computer systems at USDA’s Risk Management Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the National Agricultural Statistics Service do not talk to each other, he added.
Slow Internet service in rural America is also a problem, he said.
Another complication, Blair said, is the question of who owns the data. Blair said he considers his data his “production secrets,” but noted that many farmers farm on land owned by others who may seek access to the data.
Dorn Cox of the Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and Environment in New England said his emphasis is on the intersection of land-based agriculture and marine systems, but he wants to “democratize precision agriculture” through GOAT, the Gathering for Open Agricultural Technology.
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Pamela Hess of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture in Virginia said her organization has collected data to help farmers learn what customers demand and to help customers eat healthier.
Josh Woodward of Cornell University in upstate New York said he has developed a farm management platform that is used by farmers with 500 to 1,000 acres and that he wants to partner with other universities in other parts of the country. But he also said that protecting the privacy of data is a key.
AGree has posted the audio of the session and a blog post about it on its website. In the blog post, Deb Atwood, executive director of AGree, noted that the Senate-passed farm bill includes the Ag Data Act, which was developed by the AGree Conservation and Crop Insurance Task Force to address some government policies that make it difficult to aggregate data and analyze it.