Data Portability:The Ag Data Coalitions Mission
What is one common thing to the vast majority of the precision ag tools reviewed on this site? Data. The products listed here either require data to perform their function or are responsible for creating data that will be used by a subsequent system to help better inform the next operation.
Farmers hear from all parts of the industry about the importance, value and need for data.
There is no shortage of people looking for access to a farm’s data, but often, there seems to be a disconnect on the monetary value of data. At the Ag Data Coalition, we are trying to help explain the value of data, along with promoting best practices for storing, sharing, and utilizing data gathered through farm operations.
The Ag Data Coalition (ADC) is a non-profit with members from across the ag industry, including equipment and technology providers, ag retail and service providers, software companies, and several land grant universities; all sharing a common belief that farmers need to be in control of the data generated on their farm. The ADC was formed just over three years ago, after several years’ worth of discussions and planning about how best to address the issues facing the industry.
Multiple organizations were encountering the same issues of how best to store, share, and really utilize the vast amounts of precision ag data that was being generated by products and services farmers were adopting. Whether it’s an equipment manufacturer trying to manage connections to dozens of software tools used to interpret and analyze data generated by machines, service providers seeking solutions to store and access the data for all their customers, or university researchers wanting to make collaboration with farmers easier for field-scale research projects, all came to a common conclusion.
Farmers need to be the focal point for data generated from their fields and that storage of this data should exist in a pre-competitive space.
Most people are familiar with the stories of the “evil” company sucking up all the data they can to do who knows what, regardless of the effects on the customer. The truth in these perceptions can be debated, but the focus of the ADC is maybe a little more mundane and no less impactful to farmers. Data formats are a big issue in the industry, with many manufacturers having their own unique, proprietary file type; however, these issues have largely been overcome through a variety of software tools and the efforts of groups like AgGateway and their ADAPT project.
The bigger barrier now is data portability or the ability of a user to move data from one system or provider to another, regardless of file type. Often, this is extremely difficult--even impossible. For example, if a farmer used the “Supper Seed 2000” software tool last year to generate variable rate maps, they likely had to load three to five years of historical data about their fields into the system, so it had enough information to generate the recommendations.
Now this year, the farmer has heard good things about another company’s “Prescription Maker 3.0” tool and wants to try it out for prescription maps. Again, the software tool requires the same three to five years’ worth of data to make a recommendation; however, the farmer didn’t save anything after loading it all into the “Super Seed 3000” system last year; everything was stored in that tool, so they did not see a need to keep a redundant copy. Now, they find data cannot be retrieved from the system they used last year, or if they can get anything out, it is only a processed subset of the raw data they loaded in. It isn’t much use to the new tool, since it is unclear how the data was changed in the system from last year.
The same issue can happen on the local level: a farmer works with the local cooperative for variable rate fertilizer applications. The coop has several years’ worth of as-applied fertility information and soil samples for the farmer’s fields. This year, the farmer wants to try out a new fertilizer product from a competing ag retailer using the new companies variable rate program. However, the coop they have been working with will not provide the past fertility or soil sampling information, so the new company will have to charge extra to go out and re-sample the fields to be able to generate the prescription maps. Furthermore, they won’t have the past fertility application information to inform their recommendations.
These practices almost hold the farmer hostage; the pain of re-gathering all the data needed to take advantage of many modern software tools or even variable rate application services essentially can prevent the farmer from being able to choose with whom they do business.
Examples like these are why the ADC advocates for farmers having their own, independent data storage solution.
At a minimum, farmers should be storing the original yield (as-planted, as applied, irrigation, soil samples) and other data about their operations in the raw form (what comes off the machine terminal) somewhere. Ideally, they would be storing this data in an online system that allows them to securely share the data with the service providers and systems they choose.
This safety deposit box of data can be used to make decisions about their operation in the future without being tied to one system or service provider, simply because they hold the data. This is why the ADC advocates for data storage to be a pre-competitive space; merely having data should not be the competitive edge a system or service provider has over another.
Companies should be competing on the value their systems provide: their accuracy and results of their recommendations
The trouble and potential loss of migrating to another data system should not outweigh the benefits.
The Agricultural Data Coalition's (ADC) mission is to help farmers better control and manage their electronic data and promote innovation and progress in the agricultural marketplace. The goal of ADC is to create a neutral, independent, farmer-centric data repository where farmers can securely store and control the information collected every day in the fields by their tractors, harvesters, aerial imaging and other devices. To learn more visit www.agdatacoalition.org