Sorting Through Big Ag Data Part 1

Today, one of the biggest buzz phrases in agriculture is ‘big ag data.’  While precision agriculture has been around for some time, it’s important to recognize that the data produced by agricultural equipment, field sensors, and various other technologies may pose a variety of opportunities but may also disrupt some long-standing relationships as well.  I have had the opportunity to engage this topic in recent years by writing a soon to be released white paper as well as being a Board member of the Ag Data Coalition, which is bringing together industry, farm groups, and Universities, to develop producer controlled data storage.

  • Your farm data has value to you, but don’t buy all the hype. Your data has value to you if it helps you make decisions that make you more money. But remember, this will be true only if it really is better than what you already knew.  For example, does a variable rate technology map make a difference is a very uniform field?  Probably not.  Another possibility is if you get information faster. But again, is there a critical decision that makes use of the timelier data?
  • Many talk of the 4 V’s of big data – volume, velocity, variety, and veracity. Volume because of the sheer quantity of data being generated by our farms.  Velocity, reflecting the speed at which data arrives. Variety reflecting the wide array of data – images, sensor readings, numerical data etc.  Finally, veracity reflecting that much of the data produced is of poor quality due to a lack of calibration or some other reason.  Bad data= bad decisions.
  • Your farm data has value to others. Machinery companies can learn how to build a better combine, a seed dealer can learn how a variety performs in actual field conditions, or a company can use your neighbor’s data to benchmark your farm against peers.  However, Terry Griffin of Kansas State points out that data is not like most goods.  If I use a gallon of gas, you can’t have it.  It’s gone.  But I can use my farm data and I can give it or sell it to others and they can use it too.  I think we are beginning to see that it is often not individual data but aggregated data that may be what has the greatest value anyway.
  • The question of data ownership is a murky legal territory. What is paramount for producers to understand is that data contract and the associated fine print are important.  In many ways this is what determines who has access to your farms data.  I recommend you check out the Ag data transparency evaluator at  Rather than ownership perhaps the useful concern is who has access to my data.