Farmers make 14 recommendations for shaping farm data policy

October 17, 2023

Data tell a story of soil and water stewardship. It serves as the foundation for proving and improving climate-smart agriculture and productivity, both critical for addressing food insecurity, biodiversity loss, climate change and other important issues.

And it’s growing in demand.

“An abundance of satellite data and a decade of data analytics have led to a proliferation of data tools and specialized software for crops that enable precision agriculture, GPS and sensor technology, autonomous and AI-enabled equipment, and other innovations designed to help farmers make data-informed management decisions,” says Fred Yoder, Ohio row-crop farmer and co-chair of Solutions from the Land.

Yoder, along with Lois Wright Morton, a specialty crop grower and SfL board member, led a team of SfL farmer envoys and board members in discussing farm data — and the opportunities and concerns that come with it.

While data are often considered something used predominately by large-scale farmers, it can—and should—be size neutral, serving farmers of all types and scales.

“Anyone who has a cellphone with internet or satellite service can download a variety of applications and information to improve how cropping systems are monitored and managed, can set up bank and savings accounts, and be paid via cellphone,” says Howard Shapiro, Ph.D., Solutions from the Land co-chair, who has extensive experience working with plant breeders and farmers in Africa as well as in the U.S.

Together, the farmer-led, SfL-supported team has developed the “Data Policy Guidance on Farm Data: Strengthening Collection, Analysis and Use of Agriculture and Food System Data for SDG Attainment.”

Kyle Bridgeforth, a contributing farmer from Alabama, will present the report at the World Food Forum in Rome next week.

The report affirms farmers are the owners of the data they generate on the farm.

“Personal farm records and data generated by farming processes are intellectual property,” says Jocelyn Anderson, an almond and walnut grower in northern California

It also points out the advantages of collecting and using data on the farm:

  • “New technologies and data-driven innovations offer new approaches and tools for farmers at all scales, including smallholders, to collect their own farm data and to use it to guide on-farm management decisions, select profitable cropping systems, increase production, and find or create new markets,” says Amelia Kent, a Louisiana beef producer.
  • “The higher the value of the crop, the more data markets require and the greater the opportunity for farmers to benefit from the value of their data,” says Kyle Bridgeforth, an Alabama cotton, corn, soybean, wheat and canola farmer.
  • “On-farm weather monitoring systems give extremely accurate data on when to initiate and terminate irrigation cycles especially when used in conjunction with soil moisture sensors,” says Brad Doyle, an Arkansas soybean, rice, wheat and grass hay farmer.

The team hopes international leaders use the below recommendations as they design policy around agricultural data.

“Farmers and private sector industries have much in common in working together as they innovate and seek solutions that strengthen and help agricultural and forestry enterprises thrive, protect and enhance the environment, and provide multiple benefits in support of sustainability and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” says Verity Ulibarri, a New Mexico crop and livestock farmer.

Below are the 14 farmer-developed recommendations for data policy.

The first half of the recommendations relate to data ownership, public and private stakeholder access, and use of farm data.

  1. Infrastructure. Data infrastructure must ensure farmers and agricultural/forestry communities have reliable and easy access to information generated from their own data as well as aggregated public data and the information it generates.
  • Ownership. Farmers/foresters and agricultural communities own their personal farm records and data generated by their farming processes. These data are intellectual property and propriety.
  • Sharing data across the value chain. The value assigned to agriculture and food system data must be shared fairly across the entire value chain, starting first with farmers of all scales (large, mid-size and smallholders) who generate the data that others want.
  • Transparency in trade. Farmer/forester and agricultural community data should not be traded (business models profiting off the sale of others’ data to external actors) without the explicit and transparent agreement of those who generated and own the data.
  • Benefits from sharing. Farmers/foresters and agricultural communities must benefit from sharing their data, and if they choose to share have the right to specify and limit its use. They may voluntarily consent and enter agreements on data use and sharing with stakeholders with economic and/or social interests. Stakeholders include but are not limited to tenants, landowners, cooperatives, owners of precision agriculture system hardware, agriculture technology providers, government agencies and/or university researchers.
  • Transparency in collection. Stakeholder-farmer data agreements/contracts regarding data collection, access, confidentiality and use of agricultural data must disclose type of agricultural data collected and purposes, limitations on use and conditions of sharing/resale with others, clear opt out/discontinuance of the data exchange relationship, and time period and data retention/disposal procedures.
  • Farmer use of collected data. Farmers use of their own data within the context of the stakeholder-farmer agreement and retention conditions should easily allow the farmer to retrieve their own non-anonymized and non-aggregated data for storage and/or use in other systems.

The second half of the recommendations relate to public production and use of agricultural data.

  • Public data. Country-level agricultural data infrastructure should:
    • Provide fundamental services and systems that enable agricultural/forestry economics.
    • Ensure access and flows of data and data-derived information and communication among government, farmers, agricultural communities and their value chains.
    • Facilitate creation and growth of agricultural and food systems to ensure food and nutrition security.
    • Support activities of daily living.
  • Food and Nutrition Security. Policies intended to define and promote national and global food and security nutrition data and metadata standards and metrics that can be used to integrate food and nutrition security outcomes with robust resilient food and agricultural systems must engage farmers representing multiple scales, production systems, geographies, and climatic conditions in the identification of appropriate domains and measurements associated with specific desired targets and outcomes and the development of metrics and standards.
  1. Climate Smart and Ecosystem Services. Farmers/foresters and agricultural communities representing different types of production systems, geographic and climatic conditions should be involved in the development/setting of industry standards and public policy standard metrics that are associated with the monetizing of data needed to track livestock- and crop-specific practices and outcomes associated with climate-smart and environmental priorities/goals.
  1. Ownership protections. National and global policies must balance government needs for data access and sharing to achieve SDGs with farmer/forester and agricultural community data ownership protections and control of use.
  1. No one-size-fits-all prescriptions. Care must be taken to avoid government program prescriptions using national aggregate farm data to extrapolate identical requirements for all farmers without regard for unique differences in region, farm size, crops, resources, and cultures. Farm resource regions have distinctly different natural resource bases and climates as well as farm sizes, livestock systems, perennial and annual cropping systems, soil types, water availability/access, and topographical and cultural variations.
  1. Privacy protection. Government required farm-level data must be reported in aggregate and anonymously.
  1. Efficiency. Government data is fragmented by agency. Requirements for farm-level data should be coordinated so duplication of collection of the same data are avoided and paperwork is reduced.

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