There are many questions surrounding the use of data for and from farmers. Who owns the data? What is required? How does this benefit me as a farmer?
I took to the streets with these questions as part as an ongoing quest to clarify just what it is that farmers may expect and more importantly, what are their rights under the current legislation.
To start, it is fair to say that in the beef industry, we gave away our opportunity to profit from and control our data with mandatory identification. Identification was a necessity, but the number that went with the inventory had “value” and in that area farmers should have been better advised. It was sold as a way to access information about the performance and appreciated value of the animal as it moved along the commercial chain. This, of course, did not develop as under Canadian law, the information or intellectual property resides with the last owner of the inventory. Only voluntary sharing of information or a paid agreement allows producers access to information on their cattle.
Today, the question of data ownership has broadened considerably as everyone from service providers to food companies are suggesting that market access will be dependent on data submission. Remembering that the intellectual property lies with the last holder of the inventory, there is really only one way to profit with data and that is to be the end-user, unless there is a charge for data from the first or current owner of the property.
The push that is going on in the food industry has producers convinced that they will not be able to sell unless they provide data on things like production protocols or sustainability. Whole Foods leads the way by requiring producers in the food chain to supply data for production protocols to ensure brand trust and they are paid accordingly. The reality now is that most companies are trying to mirror that model without compensation to the producer.
What is happening? Secondary and end-users of commodities for food are busy setting their own standards to ensure brand security. They are tossing words like “sustainability” about freely without a sound descriptive of the meaning of the word or how it is supported.
In my quest, I spoke to officials from several of the largest food companies in Canada who are spending years working on their future data requirements in the terms of sustainability. I also spoke to Canadian representatives of the restaurant industry who are trying to wade through the rigours of everyone for themselves. This is creating confusing messages for farmers.
The advancement of prescriptive farming has finally pushed the door open for the discussion on data ownership. After years of submission from farmers in terms of the demand for data, producers are stepping back and saying, “Just a minute, who owns the data you take off my tractor?”
And in livestock the use of data for tracing back is putting systems risk entirely on the farmer. Today livestock producers are also questioning the methodology of tracing back when the money for them is in selling the data and transferring the processing risk.
In the top-down world of both regulation and fad, farmers have become victims and continue to behave in that manner, rushing about to meet the terms of someone who suggests that data supply is the only way to be paid. Shall we think this through? Certainly there is opportunity and value in production protocols that are focused on measurables such as animal welfare and environmental consciousness. And both producers and processors are in fear of losing their social licence to operate and innovate. So why is it that we accept the restrictions imposed in this area by those end-users rather than collectively define them within our own industry and charge for that data accordingly? After all, it is data and technology that allows us as farmers to make these types of decisions from a knowledge base.
If process defines substance, then we, the farmers of the nation, need to own the process. This is no longer rocket science as there are technologies available for us to do that and do it quickly. Our challenge will be in mending the fractures within agriculture to ensure a common voice or we will be no better than those competing voices of end-users who are shifting data requirements as they wade through their own competitive environment.
The best use of data should be towards the building of your own wealth. The development of intelligent systems that demonstrate compelling evidence and value! More importantly, Canadians love farmers and they trust us. We must be a good friend to the consumer. This is our time to develop a relationship with consumers based on their needs and our collective wisdom that defines safe food produced with environmental consciousness.