Big Data is coming slowly to many farmers in Western Canada, which some say provides an opportunity to get ready for it.
“There’s more and more interest in it all the time, but I’m not hearing a lot of farmers talking about it yet,” said Keystone Agricultural Producers president Doug Chorney.
Big Data is the definition for the ocean of data produced by the monitors and sensors used in many farming operations today. The data comes from almost every farm machine and facility, as well as from the fields themselves, and farmers have the ability through data providers to connect all the information, have it analyzed by powerful computer systems and receive customized suggestions and solutions.
Some consider it to be as revolutionary as the biotechnology revolution of the 1990s.
However, along with the potential benefits come risks because farmers could lose control of the data from their own farm, see it fall into the hands of people they don’t trust and lose access to it if they stop being a client of a certain company.
Chorney said data control appears to be a priority for some of the major farm machinery and input providers.
“It’s a growing pattern to see companies trying to control technology,” he said.
Agri-Trend founder Rob Saik said farmers need to ensure they’re not giving away control and ownership when they deal with a company that offers an integrated data management program.
“We believe very strongly that the farmer needs to be at the centre of the data,” said Saik, whose company offers a data management program called Agri-Data Solution.
Agri-Trend, which has been using cloud computing since 2001, allows farmer-clients to receive a copy of all of their data any time they want it.
Saik said the company doesn’t sell machinery or inputs, so it focuses on keeping farmers happy, which has pushed it to ensure they are in charge.
However, he said farmers need to be careful when dealing with companies that are selling products to farmers and might be using data management as a way to hook them in deeper than they would want.
“My advice is to read the documents very carefully,” said Saik.
“Inside some of the bigger companies, if you study the document and you really go deep into the documents, you will find farmers don’t have as much rights to the data as they would have been led to believe.”
Saik said his company is coming up with a clear statement on farmers’ rights to data within its system and hopes to bring it out at the end of summer.
He said farmers need to be careful with free data services through apps or other electronic services.
“If an app is free, how is the company making money?” said Saik.
“What are they selling? The product is the farmer.”
Chorney said he has already seen farmers in his area switch from owning machinery from various companies to owning machinery from just one company so that they can integrate systems across machines.
Combined with data services, farmers could find they are becoming extremely reliant on a single company, and they need to make sure they have some rights within the relationship.