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Ownership remains a big issue for big data

—By Kathleen M. Dutro
Public Relations Team

Whether you farm or work with farmers, “big data” has become a hot topic in agriculture.

This is why the Indiana Ag Law Foundation and Indiana Farm Bureau are holding a workshop on big data for farmers on Aug. 15. The workshop will also address issues surrounding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

This also why big data was one of the topics at the recent Strategic Policy, Advocacy, Resources and Communications conference put on for state Farm Bureau staff by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“When you think about big data, you’ve got to think about the computer industry, the IT industry – they’ve dealt with big data for years,” said AFBF economist Matt Erickson. Erickson spoke at the SPARC conference, and he will also be speaking at IFB’s big data workshop. Within agriculture, the data is pretty much everything that’s generated from the farm, he said.

“The ‘big’ comes in because there’s a lot of data generated,” he said. But even more important than the volume of data is how that data is used. What turns “data” into “big data,” Erickson said, is putting it to work.

“It’s how we interpret the data, how we analyze the data, and how we put the data into action that we call ‘big data,’” he explained.

Among the issues that arise from big data are how to make sure the data has value for the farmer and how to keep that data secure. But the issue that agriculture has yet to completely resolve is that of who controls the data and who owns it.

As Rachelle Thibert, integrated solutions manager for John Deere, explained to the audience at the SPARC conference for state Farm Bureau staff, it’s clear that when it comes to agronomic data, the farmer owns the data.

“The challenge with that is, which farmer?” she said. “When you’ve got a situation where somebody owns the land, owns the machine, owns the crop, makes all the decisions, it’s clear: He owns the data. No questions asked.

“But when all of a sudden you’ve got multiple legal entities farming together, this company owns some of the machines, this (other) company owns some of the machines, they all own a little bit of land – it’s all one family, but it’s set up, for all kinds of good reasons, as different companies – we don’t necessarily know who owns which part of that data.” It becomes even more complicated when you start contracting out parts of the operation, she said – for example, custom harvesting or chemical applications, where the applicator owns the machine but the farmer owns the land.

“Once we started playing out scenarios of how farming really happens in this country, it got really, really complex,” she said.

The Indiana Ag Law Foundation’s workshop on big data and UAVs will be held Aug. 15 at IFB’s home office in Indianapolis. The cost is $50 for registrations made by July 14 (which is right around the time readers are slated to receive this issue of The Hoosier Farmer) or $75 for those made after that. Registration closes July 31 or when the event fills, whichever comes first. Information is available at or by calling Maria Spellman, 317-692-7840.

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