Farmers favour sharing data with universities

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — Farmers are most willing to share data with university researchers and least willing to share with government, according to a survey by a University of Saskatchewan agricultural economics graduate student.

Madeline Turland presented results from a survey last fall of 571 Saskatchewan farmers at the recent Farming For Profit? conference.

“Aggregating farm level data into a big data bank is something that a lot of people are interested in doing, so I’m trying to figure out what can incentivize farmers to do that,” she said.

Farmers are adopting precision agriculture technology that can provide lots of data, but they don’t know what to do with it, Turland said, adding there would be more benefits if the data is aggregated.

Her survey found 94 percent of respondents are using GPS guidance systems, while variable rate technology is the least-used technology at 29 percent.

Farmers could be using the data to create things like better land-management practices and increased profits.

Corporations would use it to develop new technologies that farmers would use.

Governments and environmental organizations are also interested in using data to better serve their interests.

Turland used different economic models to determine her results. Participants were offered different financial incentives and she found all incentives increased the participation rate.

“Overall, farmers are willing to participate 36 percent of the time,” she said. “That goes up to 51 percent when university researchers run the program and drops to 25 percent when government runs the program.”

She found that farmers who generate more than $3 million in revenue each year were less likely to share their data than the average farmer with $100,000 to $500,000 of revenue per year.

After universities, farmers were more likely to share data with crop input suppliers, grower associations, financial institutions and equipment manufacturers.

Turland offered several explanations for her findings.

“Farmers may be hesitant to share their data if they think they’re being exploited to generate large profits for corporations,” she said. “The second explanation is that farmers are more willing to share their data with non-profit organizations.”

Another reason is that farmers want to protect business relationships and don’t want input suppliers, for example, to use data to manipulate pricing, and some might be worried about new environmental regulations or being penalized for unintentionally violating existing regulations, Turland said.

Vaughn Crone, who farms near Central Butte, Sask., said farmers are hesitant to give information because of competition for land, and he questioned whether anyone collecting data, including Statistics Canada, gets real numbers.

“Unless it comes from … actual hard data from a satellite, from a yield monitor, and you’re getting the truth, then you’re probably getting some good data,” he said. “If you’re phoning me and asking me about my data, it’s not worth bothering.”

Turland said some organizations might be better off contracting a university to run data collection.

“At the same time, if farmers find out that government is trying to get in there, that might backfire,” she said.

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