Leading Iowa farm organizations, agribusinesses, state government and Iowa State University have developed a comprehensive action plan, with steps to help harness the power of agricultural data for the benefit of farmers.
"The Digital Transformation of Row Crop Agriculture" report, developed by The Hale Group at the direction of Iowa AgState (Agricultural Strategic Thinkers Acting Together Effectively), provides a roadmap for how agricultural data can be protected and used to boost farmer productivity, efficiency and profitability. Iowa AgState released the report December 16 and it is available online.
Key recommendations resulting from the 10-month study include:
• Provide continuous, ongoing education for farmers, ag retailers and policy makers about the Big Data issue and its implications to expedite informed decision making;
• Create an independent, farmer-controlled data warehouse for farm level data and aggregated agronomic data that can be used to better serve farmer participants;
• Continuously assess products, services, and business models in the market while promoting uniform, agreed-upon industry standards and guidelines pertaining to farmer data.
Report complements regional, national efforts serving farmers
The report also recommends obtaining additional input from farmers on the digital information products and services that best serve their needs and creating a center for inter-disciplinary research that positions Iowa farmers to be at the cutting edge of digital technology for generations to come.
"It's about optimizing farmer productivity, profitability and sustainability," says Brian Kemp, AgState immediate past chair and grain farmer from Sibley, Iowa. "Digital transformations will create structural change in agriculture. Farmers are still able to help shape these outcomes and this report provides direction."
Dean Lemke, nutrient management and environmental stewardship director of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa and an AgState member, says the project complements other regional and national projects focused on similar concerns and opportunities. "With this report in hand, we will now pivot quickly to include national organizations and other state organizations," he says. "This is the beginning of exciting developments that will serve farmers and the greater industry. As a national agricultural leader, Iowa has a unique role to provide key insight."
Strategies offered by AgState to help farmers capture value
The report, posted online by many AgState partners, focused on four major topics: technology, business models, policy and farmer education. It approached the issue from the perspective of Iowa row crop farmers with the implication of the findings for other sectors of agriculture also addressed.
"Big Data" is not a new issue for agriculture but the ability to collect, interpret and put it to use is increasing exponentially. Questions by farmers about how the data is being collected and who has rights to it serves as the catalyst for the AgState digital farming project.
"Ultimately, a better understanding and use of data will help farmers continuously improve," Lemke says. "It will also give them a more authoritative voice that provides leverage in matters that affect their business." Kemp agrees, saying it's about farmers capturing the value of the data they produce without compromising their proprietary information and intellectual property rights.
Leaders say Iowa AgState wants to hear what farmers think
Big data, as defined by The Hale Group, is both structured and unstructured data whose scale, diversity and complexity require new architecture, techniques, algorithms and analytics to manage and interpret it and extract value and hidden knowledge. Big data is a key element in the new industry of Digital Agriculture which is built on the collection, use, coordination, and analysis of data from a multiplicity of sources with the goal of optimizing productivity, profitability and sustainability of farming operations.
Recently, a national coalition of major farm organizations and ag technology providers announced an agreement on data privacy and security principles which focuses on priority issues for farmers, including Big Data ownership, transparency, portability and data availability.
Kemp and others involved in the group say AgState is committed to exploring potential questions related to the use of Big Data on behalf the respective constituencies it represents while working closely with national partners to serve farmers.
About AgState: Formed in 1997, AgState involves leadership of all segments of Iowa agriculture to develop a proactive, futuristic vision for Iowa agriculture and action plan to help make that vision a reality. Members include: Agribusiness Association of Iowa; Dairy Iowa; Midwest Dairy Association; Iowa Cattlemen's Association; Iowa Corn Growers Association; Iowa Corn Promotion Board; Iowa Farm Bureau Federation; Iowa Institute for Cooperatives; Iowa Pork Producers Association; Iowa Poultry Association; Iowa Soybean Association; Iowa State University; Iowa Turkey Federation; Iowa Economic Development Authority; and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Jamie Schmidt of Garner, Iowa, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, serves as chair.
About The Hale Group: The Hale Group, a food and agribusiness consulting firm headquartered in Danvers, Mass., helps clients meet the demands of a rapidly changing environment. With its industry as well as functional expertise, The Hale Group collaborates with clients to gain perspective on challenges and then transform strategies, culture and organizational structures to capitalize on opportunities.