Before You Sign on the Dotted Line

July 26, 2014 03:52 AM

One of the overarching promises big data holds is its potential to boost crop yields. In the process of harnessing that potential for your farm, you will need a technology partner or a team of advisers you trust to provide data analysis and next-step recommendations. Consider these suggestions as you evaluate potential partners and develop a working plan to move forward.

service agreement pie chart

Define and agree on who owns your data. The matter of ownership has been difficult to define on the road to implementing big data. Any company or individual will say you own the data, but what does that mean? Do you own the raw data, aggregate data or both? There are no legal safeguards currently in place spelling out how you retain ownership of data, according to Shannon Ferrell, an Oklahoma State University agricultural law professor. His advice: treat your data like a trade secret, much like Coca-Cola protects its soft drink recipe. Expect potential service providers to treat your data the same way, and tell them as much.

"Growers need to be more aware and conscious of the data that is going off their farm and being collected on their behalf," says Steve Cubbage, owner and president of Prime Meridian LLC, Nevada, Mo. "If actual possession is 9⁄10ths of the law then most growers might not even ‘own’ their data. Keeping the original data from monitors and other paid services like soil sampling is very important."

Ask your potential data consultant about their security practices, encourages John Fulton, an Extension research expert on precision agriculture at Auburn University. He tells farmers to ask the following three questions: 1) What assurance is provided that no one other than those with permission can access the data? 2) Is all my data password protected? 3) What additional security do you provide?

Read the fine print. Scouring the fine print in legal documents is about as much fun as watching paint dry, but make yourself read it. Too often, company contracts are vague about who can review or use your data. In some cases, you’ll find the service provider contracts indicate the provider can share your data with a business partner. But, the issue with that is the farmer typically has no binding contract with a third party, says Matt Erickson, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) economist. AFBF is working with leaders in the big data arena to make the language in contracts more consistent and transparent across the ag industry.

"We want contracts to spell out all uses of the data in a way that’s boldfaced or highlighted," Erickson says.

Most companies have a set of guiding principles that they say they operate by, he adds. Evaluate any "feel good" statements the company talks about or advertises to ensure they are parallel to the wording used in legal documents they ask you to sign.

Plan for a win-win relationship. Both you and your partners will offer valuable insights and expertise during the implementation of big data for your farm, and it’s important to
define and agree to each of your respective roles.

Fulton says the service provider needs to "ensure an individual farmer has more than ample opportunity to provide input during the analysis step. More times than not, the farmer’s insight as a data layer will provide more meaningful input than all other data layers."

Chris Fennig, managing director of MyFarms LLC, adds: "Input suppliers know their products best and should drive the logic surrounding management recommendations. Farmers know their fields best and should be able to inject their unique agronomic philosophy into the process of documenting field characteristics."

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