Developing a Farm Digital Strategy 3 – Data Management Considerations

FABE-557
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Date: 
10/15/2020
John Fulton, Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Ohio State University
Jenna Elleman, Integrated Solutions Consultant at Ag-Pro
Elizabeth Hawkins, Field Specialist, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ohio State University Extension

The key to making data valuable to a farm is storing it in a location where it can be used (i.e., “actioned”) to generate information. Ensuring it can be shared with trusted advisors and others who can analyze it to develop recommendations and new insights into the farm operation will maximize the data’s value.

Four colorful circular arrows
Figure 1. Illustration of typical flow of data to provide information for farm decisions. (Developed by the Ohio State University Extension Digital Ag Team. digitalag.osu.edu/precision-ag/research-focuses/data-analysis-and-management)

Data can also be valuable to farmers by helping them explore how various changes to practices, equipment, or other factors might impact profitability. 

Precision ag (PA) service providers use farm data to develop recommendations for and provide information about individual fields. They apply analytical tools to farm data layers to provide information such as field recommendations, yield predictions, soil moisture status, harvestability predications and other insights. Figure 1 illustrates the process a farm goes through when providing data to an agriculture technology provider (ATP), which then analyzes and returns information to the farm to help with decision-making. 

This fact sheet is the third in a series of three (FABE 555-556-557) that focus on the development of a farm digital strategy. It will assist readers in answering the questions below, which were introduced in the first fact sheet. The answers will help make data more actionable on the farm, a vital aspect of a digital strategy. When developing a strategy, it is particularly important to clearly outline a data management plan to make the data valuable. This third fact sheet outlines a data management plan and addresses data storage, sharing, and legal considerations.

Below are the questions outlined in the first fact sheet, FABE-555, “Developing a Farm Digital Strategy 1 – Introduction:”

  1. What is your objective for the data being collected?
  2. What data and digital tools do you plan to use to meet that objective and why?
  3. Are you using any digital tools (i.e. mobile applications)? If so, list.  
  4. If not using digital tools today, do you plan to use any in the near future?
  5. What, person and/or entity, do you plan to share data with?  List all.
  6. What specific data do they require you to share with them? List all.
  7. How do you plan to share data both internally and externally to the farm?
  8. What is your internal plan to store, archive, and secure data?
    1. Do you have a local storage device at the farm (i.e. laptop, external hard drive, server)?
    2. Do you use a cloud storage service (i.e. Box, DropBox, Google Drive, etc.)?
    3. Do you use an agriculture cloud platform (i.e. JD Operations Center, Climate FieldView, Encirca, etc.)?
    4. How do you back-up or have a 2nd copy of your data?
       

Data Storage

Storing and archiving data properly is a critical part of using data effectively. Data should be archived in both an on-farm and off-farm storage location (i.e., “in the cloud”) to ensure there is a backup that can be accessed in any scenario. On-farm data storage should be in a locked, fireproof safe, while cloud solutions should be password-protected and should utilize any available cyber security features.

Commonly-used cloud options include Box (box.com) and Agricultural Data Coalition accounts (agdatacoalition.org), but there are many other options that also work well for farm operations. Data should be organized in a way that considers long-term data stewardship and usability. A copy of data in its raw form (original file) should also be kept. Some considerations for farm data include:

  • At a minimum, organize data first by year, and then by crop, field, or farm, as appropriate for the operation. This will allow you to easily locate what you need.
  • Store an original copy of data both on-farm and off-farm, so a backup is available. An original copy refers to the “raw” data that is collected by the in-cab display or device on farm machinery. (Data which has been translated – by uploading it to a farm management software platform – is no longer considered raw/original.) Having a backup of the original copy allows one to always start from this data file.
  • Ensure that data can be accessed from a convenient location (the cloud, or a phone, tablet, or desktop computer, etc.). If you are using offline tools, be sure they will automatically sync when an internet connection becomes available.
  • Protect data with secure passwords and do not share without permission.
  • Develop a process to digitize any manually collected or hand-written data.

Data Sharing

The ability to efficiently share farm data is becoming important as companies and consultants provide PA services and the use of digital technologies on the farm. Sharing farm data can be difficult if a clear plan for storing and organizing data has not been outlined in a digital strategy. There are several approaches to efficiently sharing data; here are two aspects to consider within your farm digital strategy:

  1. Determine a strategy to share files on and off the farm so farm data can be effectively used to capture new insights and learnings.
  2. Keep data in a format that is easy to copy and/or share with trusted advisors and PA services A farm field under a blue sky with a digitized graphic of technology options superimposed over it.

Farmers often find it useful to share data with agronomic consultants and seed representatives. A 2017 Ohio State University survey of progressive soybean farmers who heavily used PA technologies indicated that more than 90% were sharing data with individuals or entities outside of their farm operation. Sharing farm data between multiple parties can be controversial, though, since most in the agricultural industry regard the farmer as the owner of ag data. It is important to understand the implications of sharing data in any given scenario.  

Potential benefits of sharing data include:

  • Utilizing collected data more quickly
  • Ensuring decisions are made from one common data source in order to eliminate confusion or inaccurate interpretation 
  • Minimizing the collection of duplicate data
  • Creating new insights 
  • Having access to data so you can verify original analysis (i.e., confirm results).
  • Creating high-quality analyses by scientists and researchers that have not been explored before, leading to new discoveries for agriculture and public good
  • Generating more trustworthy answers and solutions to important, complex questions within agriculture (such as water quality issues), due to having larger datasets
  • Many more

Potential downfalls of sharing data include:

  • Misinterpreting data due to complexity
  • Misinterpreting data due to poor quality
  • Using data in ways other than intended
  • Accidentally allowing access to data to individuals outside the target group

If farm operations intend to share data after the potential benefits and downfalls have been weighed, the next step is to consider how to do so efficiently. Physically handing USB sticks to another individual, emailing attachments, or saving files to an online cloud account are all options, depending on the needs of and the data agreements between two parties. 

Legal Aspects of Farm Data

When dealing with mobile applications, digital tools, and equipment and devices connected to the internet, farmers must adhere to any legal agreements that have been established. These data agreements will outline important considerations, such as data privacy and how data can be used within or outside of a company, including by affiliates. It is therefore important to incorporate the legal implications of collecting and sharing farm data into one’s farm digital strategy. 

Ownership of farm data can be difficult to determine since it is not tangible property. As mentioned previously, most of those working with farm data consider the farmer to be the owner. But ownership is not the only aspect of farm data to consider. Perhaps more important is control of the data – ensuring it is only shared with others as established in the agreement, and that the authority to cease sharing at any time is retained by the farm. Understanding data agreements is important to ensure your data is being used as you intended.  A hand holding a cell phone is shown in front of a corn field
                        
Farmers should also take special care to develop legal agreements with landowners, custom applicators/services, companies, and any digital tool enterprises with whom they share data. When working with these individuals and entities, keep the following in mind:

Farm Leases/Landowners

  • Establish the types of data that will be collected. 
  • Determine who owns and who controls the data, as well as who is entitled to access or maintain a copy of it.
  • Discuss any restrictions or limitations for the use and sharing of data.
  • Understand who earns revenue for the sale of any data.
  • Verify what will happen to the data when the lease expires or ends.

Custom Applicators/Services

  • Consider who owns and who controls the generated data.
  • Understand who earns revenue for the sale of any data.
  • Spell out if/how the analyzed data should be transferred back to the farmer.
  • Decide what degree of accuracy will be required to provide good analysis and results.
  • Create a means to protect the privacy of the data.
  • Prescribe the time period during which the service provider can retain the data.

Other Companies/Digital Tool Enterprises

  • List the categories of data being shared.
  • Determine who owns and who controls the data.
  • Understand if the data can be sold, and who would earn revenue from such a sale.
  • Agree on whether the data can be shared after it has been uploaded.
  • Confirm what data will be shared with third parties.
  • Know what happens to data (i.e., retained, deleted, or otherwise disposed of) when a contract ends or when you stop using a digital tool. 
  • Establish where the data goes if the company is sold.
  • Validate if data will be stored in a proprietary format.
  • Double-check that data will be aggregated and anonymized.
  • Know what your rights will be if there is a data breach.
  • Corroborate that you will be notified if the data agreement changes.

Summary

When creating a farm digital strategy, time is needed to clearly establish where and how farm data will be stored and organized. At a minimum, organize and store data by year, farm, and field. The type of field operation can also be used as an organizational framework. It is imperative to store data so you can quickly find a file.

A digital strategy also needs to outline where and how often data will be backed-up. The use of passwords for accessing stored data is important, as well. Data sharing considerations should be a high priority. Thorough legal agreements for software, mobile applications, and the extent that other parties will be involved with or have control over farm data are imperative. Devoting the necessary time to detail these essential aspects of a digital strategy will help make farm data more usable and thereby more valuable.

References

Fulton, J., Port, K., Lindsey, L., Shearer, S., Darr, M., Luck, J. (2017). Digital Agriculture Tools to Support Soybean Production: Final Report to the United Soybean Board (5).

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the following for their time and efforts in reviewing this publication: Dr. Ajay Shah and Dr. Sami Khanal, Department of Food, Agriculture and Biological Engineering Department, Ohio State University;  Ben Craker, Kuhn North America; Deb Casurella, MyAgData; Jeremy Wilson, EFC Systems; Christopher Zoller and Jason Hartschuh, Ohio State University Extension; Joe Luck, University of Nebraska; and Bruce Erickson, Purdue University.

Visit The Ohio State University Digital Ag Program online at digitalag.osu.edu and the Agronomic Crops Network at agcrops.osu.edu for additional information on this topic and more.

Follow the Ohio State Twitter page @OhioStatePA and the hashtag #DataIntel for information related to farm data and its value.