Computer tablet technology

As farm equipment control becomes more computerized and farm financial planning becomes more automated, farmers are gradually getting used to sharing their business information. But they are not completely comfortable with the idea.

“Right now we’ve been so preoccupied with the weather and prices and trade that we haven’t been talking about this, but it is out there,” says Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Hill.

There hasn’t been a lot of information about how much information farmers are sharing, but for an industry which has always been concerned about privacy, it is just one more thing to worry about.

A 2018 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll included a couple of questions on the topic, according to J. Gordon Arbuckle, an Extension sociologist at Iowa State University. On a question about data from precision technologies being used for regulatory purposes, 17% strongly agreed this is a concern and another 64% agreed. When asked if they were concerned that corporations could use farmers’ planting and harvest data to manipulate markets, 19% strongly agreed and another 52% agreed.

When asked if they were concerned that corporations would use data for their benefit rather than the farmers’ benefit, 18% strongly agreed and another 44% agreed.

A large majority also agreed with a statement saying they “weren’t sure they were using the data they collected as effectively as possible.”

“There is a question of who is going to benefit,” Arbuckle says. “I think this indicates there is a real concern out there about this.”

Hill says that the technology revolution on the farm in the past two decades is extraordinary, but it leaves farmers asking both whether they are effectively using the data and whether that data could be used against them in some way.

Farmers need to ask serious questions about how their data is used or shared and who is benefiting, Hill says.

For example, he says, there are questions of who owns data and who controls it. Is it revocable (meaning, can you get it back so the company involved no longer has access to it)? Can it be sold (with or without your permission)? Is it in a format that is standardized and movable?

In addition there are basic computer security questions. It is no secret that many databases have been hacked in recent years.

In theory, the data gathered on a farm should make that farm business more valuable. But Hill says that few farmers or non-farmers ask some of the difficult questions.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.