It's Up To Farmers' Advisers To Bridge The Data Divide

09:25AM Jul 24, 2020
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New numbers indicate a growing divide between consumers and producers. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated consumer interest in sustainability.

The numbers used in this article stem from a consumer survey from global management consulting firm Kearney, which surveyed 1,000 consumers on both March 6 and April 10, 2020. Farmer feedback on data collection and sharing comes from new research from Farm Journal’s Trust In Food Initiative and The Sustainability Consortium. That report can be viewed at here.


As of April 10, that’s the number of consumers who took the environment into consideration when making consumer goods purchases. 

That’s up a whopping 12% since last year, and it shows even in the midst of a global pandemic the subject of sustainability has grown in importance in the minds of consumers. 

This spike in interest about food sustainability was heightened by the fact that many people “got closer” to their food. Millions during this “time at home” became the head chef, short order cook and main hunter and gatherer of provisions. They got to “choose” the food instead of farming out that task to a third party. 

But as consumer awareness of sustainability rises, the numbers on the producer side tell a different story.



That’s the percentage of farmers in a recent survey who did not believe their customers have a right to know how they manage their farms. 

I’m not exactly a math whiz, but if we interpret this number literally, then that means this set of farmers is left only to cater to the 17% of consumers surveyed who indicated they don’t care about how the food they eat has impacted the environment.

In reality, it is not that way yet, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that such a “none of your business” attitude from farmers in the age of consumer transparency is really not the wisest long-term business practice. It’s important to dig deeper into what is fostering such friction in the first place.



This number shows the “slice” of farmers from the survey who said their primary ag adviser or consultant has never suggested increasing on-farm data collection, data sharing or both.

For me, this is the “shocker” value, and it without a doubt contributes heavily to why nearly half of farmers don’t want to “share” data about their farms. This number, if true, should sound alarm bells along the food chain.

If the farmers’ most “trusted advisers” are not seeing the value of data and rewards for sharing data up the food chain, then it is no wonder farmers aren’t on board. There needs to be a serious realignment in terms of value and trust when it comes to farm data.



That’s the number of farmers surveyed who did not use farm-level data software in 2019.

Still, today—20 years into the 21st century—46% of the farmers surveyed across 40 different states store and manage their data primarily using paper records. For all the consumer goods companies out there that mistakenly believe all this data inherently “just exists” at the farm gate and all they have to do is just ask for such data, they’re just now discovering said data isn’t easily waiting there to be picked up and put into their sustainability models. Oops. Once again, here’s a reality check.

Directly rewarding farmers when it comes to data and treating it more like a crop than a byproduct is obviously the primary critical consideration if any of the percentages shown here are going to change for the better anytime soon.