• Precision Ag Reviews

Ep. 36: Ag Data Coalition with Scott Shearer



The value of data is talked about and stressed in nearly every precision ag conversation. Managing data, especially in an age where we can collect a data point on every inch of our fields, can be a daunting task. Many of us rely on software or a service provider to navigate the mountains of data we collect. On Episode 36 of Precision Points, Scott Shearer shares how we can safely store our data, why it's important to understand the fine print, and options to traverse a data divorce.


Scott Shearer is a Professor and Chair of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Ohio State. He is also the founding member-elected director of the Ag Data Coalition (ADC). The ADC started as a consortium at Ohio State and has evolved into a non-profit organization aiming to provide a safe place for growers to store their data.


Data Safety in Agriculture


Safety in data can mean a lot of things. From the servers used and their ability to be infiltrated to the stability of your hardware, Scott talks of the importance of keeping your data safe. One of his biggest concerns is for growers attempting to store their data on hard drives at home. He shared he has seen lots of data lost this way. In comparison to cloud data storage, the information you’re saving has more opportunities to be recovered if something goes wrong.


“So if there's a flood, a hurricane, whatever the case may be, yes, that data repository may be down and maybe offline. But the other side of the coin is that data is backed up in a couple other geographic locations. And I know at one time a company like AWS was suggesting that anytime there was any kind of interruption, you would be back up and operational within about 30 seconds,” Scott shared on the rebound of cloud data.


Reading the Fine Print


In addition to keeping your data safe, Scott encourages growers to understand how their data may be used. This is why it’s important to understand the fine print that comes with nearly every data housing or processing contract.


“I think the questions that farmers need to be asking in some cases is by clicking on 'I accept your terms' are you licensing your data to that organization? And then what does that license mean? In other words, what's that organization able to do with your data?” Scott started. “And again, I don't want to talk negatively, there's a lot of companies that return a tremendous amount of value. And that's part of the process is being able to aggregate these datasets, and then provide I'm going to say ‘directions’ in terms of actionable information that farmers can use to make money. And so it is an ecosystem if you want to think of it that way.”


The fine print details of an ag data contract can sometimes sound like legal jargon and can be difficult to fully understand. Because of this, several industry leaders came together to create the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator (ADT). ADT is a non-profit organization that assesses companies’ ag data contracts and checks them for compliance to ag data’s core principles.


Navigating a Data Divorce


Many aspects of business in agriculture are relational. This can make separating from a company you have done business with tough enough, but you don't want to leave your data on the table. Navigating how to extract your information and deciding what is yours and what is theirs can lead to a gray area.


“I think in general, most organizations would say that data coming off of agricultural field machinery belongs to the farmer,” shared Scott.


From there, the terms of the data would be dependent on what you agreed to in their contract.


“One of the thoughts behind the ADC was to allow the farmers the latitude to quickly move between some of these organizations, some of these repositories and companies providing analytics. But allow them to do that of their own free will or from growing season to growing season,” Scott explained on the peace of mind ADC can provide when transferring or moving data.


To learn more about the ADC, tune into our full episode where Scott shares in depth on how the information is shared and secured. In our next episode, Scott discusses the importance of artificial intelligence in agriculture and the role it could play in the future - you won’t want to miss it!


Host: Morgan Seger

Morgan Seger grew up on a small farm in northwest Ohio before studying agriculture at The Ohio State University. She spent 10 years working with ag retail – specifically in ag tech – prior to hosting the Precision Points Podcast. She lives and farms in western Ohio with her husband Ben and their four children. Morgan has her own blog, Heart and Soil, where she talks about her experience farming, gardening, and raising her family.






Guest: Scott Shearer received his Ph.D. in agricultural engineering from The Ohio State University (OSU) in 1986. Currently, he serves as Professor and Chair of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering at OSU. Prior to 2011 he was Chair of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Kentucky. Highlights of his research career include development of methodologies and controls for metering and spatial applying crop production inputs (seed, fertilizer and pesticides); modeling of agricultural field machinery systems; autonomous multi-vehicle field production systems; strategies for deployment of UAS in agriculture; and analyses of production agriculture data sets. He has lead research supported by over $12M in grants; authored more than 200 technical publications (refereed journal articles, conference proceedings, meeting papers and book chapters); and has made numerous invited presentations at international conferences, professional meetings and farmer forums. Dr. Shearer is a Fellow of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.





Transcription:

Host: Morgan Seger

Guests: Scott Shearer


Speaker 1 (00:03):

Welcome to Precision Points and ag tech podcast, where we plant seeds of innovation to inspire informed decisions about precision technology and its impact for growers like you. We explore precision ag tools and technology from the soil to the sky with your host Morgan Seger.


Morgan Seger (00:22):

Welcome back to Precision Points and ag tech podcast from precisionagreviews.com. I'm your host Morgan Seger. And in each episode, we strive to bring you unbiased ag tech information and ideas. And today's actually going to be part one of a two-part interview. I have with Scott Shearer, who is a professor and chair of the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Ohio State. We had a very wide ranging conversation from data management and the Ag Data Coalition to artificial intelligence and its impact on agricultural today and what that looks like in the future. So this episode, we're going to be focusing on the data management piece. Now Scott is a founding member elected director for the Ag Data Coalition. And he talks through how that can be used as a source to store your information safely, and also why it might be important to read the fine print before you agree to a contract. Welcome back to Precision Points. Today on the show I am joined by Scott Shearer, the chair and professor at Ohio State. Scott, welcome to the show.


Scott Shearer (01:26):

Well thank you, Morgan. And I'm pleased to be here today with you.


Morgan Seger (01:30):

I'm really excited about today's conversation. It's been a couple of years since we've got to catch up and I know that you just have a wealth of information and experience. Could you kick us off by just sharing some of your background for our listeners?


Scott Shearer (01:43):

Well, just bring everybody up to speed, I'm an agricultural engineer by training. I received a BSMS and PhD from Ohio State University way back in the 80s. Got started in precision ag when I was at the University of Kentucky. I was on the faculty there, but I got to work with a farmer by the name of Mike Ellis and he's a long-time no-till farmer. He farmed between Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky, but it was farmed about 7,000 acres. And that was back in 1994 when I met Mike Ellis, and that was my start or entry into precision agriculture. Mike was a very progressive farmer, but he entertained a lot of the crazy ideas we had from the University of Kentucky at that time. Since that time in 2011, I moved to Ohio State and I currently serve as chair of the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. But I've been fortunate to continue a lot of my research here at Ohio State.


Morgan Seger (02:39):

Yeah. So I'm sure you've got to see just a ton of things change from the beginning to the end. Is there anything, like any initial project that you worked on that was really memorable for you?


Scott Shearer (02:50):

The one thing that we got started in, in Kentucky, this goes back. There was a farmer up in Iowa, doing some of this, but section control. Section control before section control became popular, but we did a lot of work with individual row control on planters. And we did a lot of work with individual nozzle control on sprayers. And when I was working with Mike Ellis in the state of Kentucky, his fields were a bit odd shaped and a lot of waterways. And we were able to prove to Mike that he was generating savings that paid for that technology with inside of about 12 to 18 months.


Scott Shearer (03:27):

And so that was one of those things you look back on and it's good to see where the industry has moved. And those sorts of things are pretty much standard items now. Today we'll look at agriculture, but to look at the savings for some of these farmers, with irregular shaped fields and not doing the double and triple application of products in the field, it's been pretty remarkable. And then we fast forward to today. One of the fun things is, is watching how artificial intelligence is changing that same technology, if you will, so...


Morgan Seger (03:58):

Yeah, well, I love that you've been able to see this progression. It was something new and now it's just like you said, standard operating procedure, but the work that you're doing has a huge impact for growers. So we really appreciate the research and the work you guys are doing.


Scott Shearer (04:13):

We've had a lot of fun doing it and been able to educate a number of talented graduate students along the way as well.


Morgan Seger (04:22):

That's awesome. Well, on the show, we talk a lot about data. So collecting data, using data to make decisions, but we haven't spent a lot of time talking about data management and we've had some questions from our listeners around data management. Whether that's sharing or unfortunately things happen and you need to move your data or change. And people are getting stuck on this. So I was doing a little bit of research and I came across the ag data coalition. And I saw that you were a founding member, elected director. So I was hoping you could maybe tell us what the ADC is.


Scott Shearer (04:58):

It originally started at Ohio State University as consortium, and it was an industry academic consortium. There were a number of, I'm going to say technology manufacturers, machinery companies, and some universities that came together. And I think what this group was looking for initially was a safe location for farmers to store their data. And I'll come back to that because that's an important element of the ADC today. The other thing, the universities, we were interested in data obviously. But there's this other thing about how you share data, if that makes any sense. And we, from the university side, we talked a lot about what we call data dating.


Scott Shearer (05:39):

And I know that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but a lot of researchers collect a lot of data. But the power in those data sets are when researchers get together and begin sharing data. Okay. And so the ADC was born out of the industry's side of being able to provide this data repository that was non-denominational if you'll allow me to use that term. And then from the academic side, our ability to store and share data. And so that was really what the impetus for it was. Ohio State spun that out the consortium, they spun it out as a not-for-profit. And so it's been operating as a not-for-profit for several years now.


Morgan Seger (06:18):

Okay. So is this a place where growers are actually going to store their data?


Scott Shearer (06:26):

Yes. Farmers can basically log on, create an account. Obviously there's a fee for that account that we also have connections to a lot of the major data repositories. And so if a farmer's data's going to Climate Corp/Deere, whatever, they can create that connection between their cloud storage locations in the ADC storage location. What I want to say is as time goes along, there's a lot of organizations that want to store and process data for farmers and we get that. One of the thoughts behind the ADC was to allow the farmers the latitude to quickly move between some of these organizations, some of these repositories and companies providing analytics. But allow them to do that of their own free will or from growing season to growing season.


Scott Shearer (07:22):

Sometimes people use a term called lock-in. Where, yeah you can get your data into these repositories, but becomes difficult getting it back out in some form or fashion. And so I'm not sitting here accusing anybody of anything, but there is some frustration on the part of farmers, if they're going with maybe one service provider or one analytics group one year, and they want to switch to another one the following year. So the thought with the ADC is they can always store their base data, the raw data if you will, and be able to switch between these organizations at the flip of a switch, if that makes sense.


Morgan Seger (07:56):

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I think that some of the gray area comes from the insights we get from some of these other tools. So we share our raw data and then we're able to create these maps and other pieces of information that help us hopefully make decisions in our field. So then does that data become the growers' data or does information like that stay with the company?


Scott Shearer (08:19):

I think in general, most organizations would say that data coming off of agricultural field machinery belongs to the farmer. And I'm not going to say that that's universal, but I'm going to say that that belief is generally held. I'm going to liken farmers going to one of these cloud providers or whatever in terms of data repositories and clicking on 'I accept your terms' as being like us accepting credit card terms. Okay. We know the terms are there, they're probably written from a legal perspective and sometimes they're not the easiest things to understand. But a lot of us just kind of blindly click on, 'I accept the terms for new credit card' and we move on with life. I think that's what some farmers may be doing with some of these data repositories. And that's not a bad thing, but I always encourage everybody to know what, and be fully aware of, what they're agreeing to.


Scott Shearer (09:17):

I think the question that farmers need to be asking in some cases is by clicking on 'I accept your terms' are you licensing your data to that organization? And then what does that license mean? In other words, what's that organization able to do with your data? And again, I don't want to talk negatively, there's a lot of companies that return tremendous amount of value. And that's part of the process is being able to aggregate these datasets, bring summary to it, and then provide I'm going to say directions in terms of actionable information that farmers can use to make money. And so it is an ecosystem if you want to think of it that way. And everybody, the way I always see it, is everybody along the line has to make money. But I also caution farmers to be aware of what they're agreeing to when they click, 'I accept your terms', so...


Morgan Seger (10:07):

Yeah, for sure. The fine print is easy to scroll past. I know that.


Scott Shearer (10:13):

It is and American Farm Bureau Federation attempted to do something about that with their ag data transparency evaluator. And there was a number of companies that have signed up with that. And so what they're attempting to do is from a legal sense, basically validate whether or not some of these service providers are being truthful in their claims and in the terms of the user agreements. So anyways, so just something for farmers to think about is, is checking that ag data transparency evaluator. And their approach towards reviewing the claims and the content of some of these user agreements.


Morgan Seger (10:55):

Sure. So is there like an ideal situation where you think that the ADC would be a really good fit or any specific requirements for growers that would be considering it?


Scott Shearer (11:06):

I guess my response to you would be is it's going to depend upon the farmer's situation and how content they are with their current service providers. We still have a lot of personal relationships that carry the day in agriculture. And so, if you have that certified crop advisor that is providing the kind of services you need, and you have a lot of confidence and faith in what they're doing well, that's probably going to carry the day. I think some of the farmers though, that may become unhappy with the situation, the ADC provides them - there's costs associated with it - but provides some kind of peace of mind that they have this ability to switch between organizations by essentially flipping the switch. And not everybody's going to be concerned about that. Some people might be. And so this is an option for them.


Morgan Seger (11:57):

Sure. So if someone is going through, I guess the term we've heard is like a data divorce. They have all their information with one person and they're looking to maybe move it to someone else. What would that process look like initially going into the ADC? Is it just a manual upload of whatever data they can get or do you work with the person they're possibly leaving?


Scott Shearer (12:21):

Again, in some cases there's connections. And so all the farmer really has to do is enable that connection between those data repositories, if you will. And it's automatic. And so it can be a very seamless situation. That's not going to be in all cases, but many of the cases it's more or less seamless in terms of moving that data. It varies from provider to provider in terms of how the data has been processed and how it's stored. So I want to be careful making blanket or universal statements. But in many cases, it's a fairly direct connection if you will, by just enabling some permissions and things like that.


Morgan Seger (13:03):

Okay. And then once they're set up, those connections would continue to bring future data in?


Scott Shearer (13:08):

Some of them are automated. Some of them you may have to move things on a periodic basis. It's going to vary a little bit between some of these organizations.


Morgan Seger (13:18):

Okay. Sure. And then did you want to circle back on the safe locations for growers to store their data? Is there an unsafe location?


Scott Shearer (13:29):

I'm going to make a couple statements here and I think most people in the industry would agree with this. I think one of the biggest concerns that growers could and should have is that they're attempting to store their data at home on hard drives. Okay. And my point is, connected machines, we know we're archiving a lot more data than we were before. When farmers had to move it with the thumb drive through what we call sneaker net, getting in the machine, copying the files, and then taking them home to the home office and putting them in the PC. That's where a lot of data was lost. And when I think about security and I think about this thing of being able to protect the history of the farm, I think farmers that find themselves in those situations are probably most at risk.


Scott Shearer (14:17):

Okay. So let's talk a little bit about cloud storage. When I look at a company, I'm going to use Amazon as an example. A lot of these service organizations can be using any one of a number of cloud storage locations, but I'm going to use AWS as an example. When AWS buys file servers, they buy file servers with a limited number of bells and whistles. Okay, if you or I go in and buy a file server, we get the file server with all the bells and whistles. And I know that doesn't make a whole lot of sense because you might be thinking we're getting a better deal. But it's all those bells and whistles that provide the back doors for people to get in and do nefarious things. Okay. So when AWS buys their file servers and they locate them in those data warehouses, they're able to protect those because they've limited, I call it the bells and whistles, but all those opportunities for people to get in and do nefarious things.


Scott Shearer (15:09):

So the other thing about an organization like AWS is, is that data is going to be backed up in several physical locations. Okay. So if there's a flood, a hurricane, whatever the case may be, yes, that data repository may be down and maybe offline. But the other side of the coin is that data's backed up in a couple other geographic locations. And I know at one time a company like AWS was suggesting that anytime there was any kind of interruption, you would be back up and operational within about 30 seconds. And the only data that would be lost is any transactional data in those 30 second intervals or whatever. And so when I begin to think about data security, and I begin to think about these cloud storage structures, a lot of farmers are going to be a lot better off storing their data in these locations.


Scott Shearer (15:59):

Okay. And so I can't emphasize that enough in comparison to farm office. Okay. A hard drive fails, it's not backed up the data doesn't get transferred from the machine to the storage location or whatever. And I think a lot of farmers find themselves at risk. I know there's a lot of farmers with 10, 15, 20 years of data backed up on multiple hard drives in some respects. And so it's a little bit more fragmented and a little more difficult for them to get access to that data when it comes to the analytics. We know with all the connected machines today, at least those people buying new equipment, we know all their data is going to the cloud directly. So again, some of this is legacy as well.


Morgan Seger (16:39):

Yeah. Well, and I think there's also a component of just like usability. Because there was a lot of data that was collected and the sneakers never got it out and put it in a card reader. So I can definitely see the benefits too, of just having easier access to it so we actually are using it.


Scott Shearer (16:56):

And I think that's the biggest thing is once we can aggregate that data, once we have 10, 15, 20 years of yield data for the farm for specific fields, that's when things get a bit interesting in terms of the analytics.


Morgan Seger (17:08):

Yeah. I can only imagine. And there's probably lots of growers out there that are getting close to those numbers of yield data. And it'd be interesting to hear what they're doing with it.


Scott Shearer (17:18):

Well, and again, I'll remind everybody, yield monitoring... The first yield monitors available on combines. I'll go back to when we had differential correction signals being provided by the coast guard. Okay, oddly enough, that occurred back in 1995. It was when we saw some of the first yield monitors on combines. So, there are some farmers that are probably getting close to that 25 years worth of data. Or if you stop and think about it in farmer terms, a career's worth of data.


Morgan Seger (17:48):

Yeah, that's incredible. So if someone is interested in learning more about the Ag Data Coalition, where do you suggest they go?


Scott Shearer (17:58):

Well, I would point them to the agricultural data coalition website. It's ADC for short, but the easiest, most direct route is just search on agricultural data coalition.


Morgan Seger (18:08):

We can link out to it in our show notes. That way, if anyone wants to see it, they can access it there


Scott Shearer (18:13):

It's agdatacoalition, all one word.org. A-G-D-A-T-A-C-O-A-L-I-T-I-O-N.org. Ag data coalition.


Morgan Seger (18:27):

Awesome well, thank you so much for that. And I think that'll be a good place for people to go if they're working through some of these data management issues right now.


Morgan Seger (18:36):

Thanks for tuning into another episode of Precision Points and part one of my two part conversation with Scott Shearer. In my next episode, we're going to be doing a deep dive into artificial intelligence in ag. What that looks like today and what the future might hold. You won't want to miss it. The show notes from today's episode can be found at precisionagreviews.com. While you're there, be sure to check out our grower sourced reviews. We invite you to read what others have to say about their experiences with precision ag tools and services, and for you to leave your own reviews. That way we can all learn and make insightful decisions for our farms. Until next time, this has been Precision Points. Let's grow together.


Speaker 1 (19:18):

Thanks for tuning into today's episode. To hear more podcasts like this, please rate, review, and subscribe to Precision Points. Visit precisionagreviews.com for show notes from this episode and read expert advice on the blog. Share your experience with the precision ag products you use and check out our network of farmer reviews. Let's grow together.



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