While many equate big data with big brother, serious conversations need to occur on the topic in order to best protect and leverage digital information for farming and agriculture into the future.
Facilitated by Dr Darren Hughes, founder of soil nutrition start-up Laconik, a panel at EvokeAg explored some of the issues related to gathering and using agricultural data, now and into the future.
Speaking on the panel, farmer and Wheatbelt Science director Dr Kelly Pearce said for farmers the current situation was one of not having a great deal of certainty about how there data would or could be used in the future.
"My concern is while I own the raw data on my computer, as soon as that data has been transformed, aggregated, or derived in some way and had intelligence applied to it, it is no longer my property, it becomes the property of that organisation," she said.
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"If we could have some standards, particularly around reference architecture and data vocabulary in place, that would drive better collaboration and we may actually see systems evolve where data sharing is more transparent, more efficient and more of a win-win."
Fellow panellist, Irish dairy start-up, Cainthus CEO Aidan Connolly said privacy concerns regarding data and information sharing was an issue globally, however he felt, as long as the benefits of data-sharing outweighed the opportunity cost of retaining private ownership of data, industry would move forward.
"A large part of handing over data is asking what it does for the farmers such that they feel it is okay to share," he said.
"Otherwise we will have a mess on our hands, because a lot of people are extremely reactive to the idea of a 'big brother' knowing what they are doing and selling them stuff based on that information."
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Mr Connolly questioned the idea of businesses collecting data with no current value, just because it might be useful in the future.
"The assumption is that some data will at some stage be very valuable and give us insights," he said.
"I think if you are not providing value to the producers and farmers now, and they aren't willing to pay you for what you are creating, then it is a bit of a fools game to think that at some point in the future these mass amounts of information is going to prove valuable."
Dr Pearce said outside of agronomic and yield data, farmers were placing significant value on data captured in other parts of the business, such as machinery telematics, fuel usage and business data.
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"Some of the best farmers out there are the best logistics managers, they manage their capital, manage their machinery and manage their staff and inventory levels to the best of their ability," she said.
"This sort of data will become increasingly important as our farms get larger."
Big data for agricultural research
Agriculture Victoria and LaTrobe University researcher Dr Jennie Pryce said big data was making a large impact on agricultural research, a good example being the work done in genomic sequencing.
"The bovine genome is roughly the size as the human genome, we have sequenced about 3000 key ancestors of dairy and beef breeds as part of a massive international collaboration," she said.
"We distil that information down to really informative parts.
"There is a tremendous synergy with emerging technologies."
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Dr Pryce said other examples of data driving research in agriculture included information collected from ear-tags, however a key challenge was to make the best use of the data.
"To do that we need to train the right people into the future," she said.
"We need people who understand agriculture, but we also need very smart programmers as well."