Market News & Headlines >> Brock Consultant Katie Hancock's Blog: 7 Data Security Concerns Farmers Can't Ignore

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Insights from Brock Associates Consultant Katie Hancock

Data security is a major concern among farmers. Precision technology makes us the best we’ve ever been at what we do, but the integrity of our data remains a question. It’s important to discuss why we are hesitant to embrace information technology. 

Precision technology has evolved over the past 10 years, and almost every operation uses it to some degree. It started with self-guided tractors, and now tracks information like application rates, input selection, and yields, among other data points. Data may be both manually and electronically complied into a database. This database is the root of our hesitation. Who has access to it? Who owns it? Will it be used against us? 

Farmers currently share a variety of information from financial to lenders to planted acres with the Farm Service Agency. Like any business owner, there’s a limit to what we are willing share if there’s a choice. Just to be clear, many farmers aren’t sharing enough information to those with direct interests in the business. But we’re not talking about a yield map here and there, we’re talking about millions of numbers logged on each acre—this is a big deal. 

As a farmer and consultant, these are the reasons we are slow to embrace new data technologies: 

1) Self-sufficiency. Farming operations are big businesses with bigger capital demands. It takes a group of highly skilled individuals to independently manage the variety of resources and assets to be profitable and ethical. It’s tough to wrap one’s head around relying on an external set of data to make decisions. Internal analysis is great, and an external analysis doesn’t seem to be as effective. Farmers know their land better than anyone, so can this really be valuable? 

2) Privacy. Farmers are typically introverts by the nature of the business. They spend significant time alone and usually live in rural areas in which they know everyone. Personal relationships are valued, and it’s tough to do business with a farmer and not have one-on-one contact. Some share general practices with neighbors and advisors, but nothing as detailed as acre-by-acre data information, much less with a complete stranger. 

3) Competition. It’s a stronger force in some areas than others, but competition for the land is aggressive. Why risk handing over information that could be used against you if in the wrong hands? Producers are hesitant to share yield data, for example, with landlords because it not only opens one up to criticism, but potentially damages the bottom line. For example, neighbor Ted may pay a higher rent for productive land based off yield information. That’s an extreme scenario, but we fear this could happen. 

 4) Pride. Farmers work hard to develop data by spending significant time and money- plus the grand investment in crops and land management. It can cost up to $30,000 to have top of the line precision equipment on each tractor! It's a part of us and the business in many ways and it’s frustrating for someone to just grab the precious data instantaneously. It’s an extra slap in the face when someone comes in and wants access to free data- often associated with ANOTHER fee. 

 5) Detail. It's amazing how much data is really being tracked. Beyond location or production, precision technology is tracking inputs, speed, time, and even when you stopped to eat lunch or use the restroom! There are things being tracked we don’t even know about or consider valuable. It goes beyond a good or bad spot in a field. 

6) Distrust. Many farmers don't trust those with outside influences, and it’s easy to see why. Farmers are often wrongly attacked for practices like using GMOs and pesticides. Farming is also negatively associated with using natural resources while disregarding the worldwide need of maximizing production. It also feels like everyone that isn’t farming thinks farmers are less intelligent. If farmers get such a bad rap, why would they trust an outside source to use data wisely to help? Will the data be used against us and will activists try to shut us down? 

7) No End in Sight. What comes next? Technology will only get better in time. If we give in now, then what information will we continue to share in the future? If it’s convenient for outside interests to have this data, will farmers someday be required to continue sharing every details of day-to-day activity? 

It’s simple for a computer tech to sell the benefits of compiled data. Will the benefit outweigh the risk? Ultimately, I think it will, but the hesitation is justified. From the outside it’s easy to think “wow those farmers are paranoid,” but very few business owners in any sector would want to hand over this volume of detail. Data technology is a precious jewel and farmers will continue to protect their investment in it.

Which of the 7 reasons rings most true to you? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

Email Katie at [email protected]