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Data concerns remain top of mind for farmersData concerns remain top of mind for farmers

Farm Bureau found that farmers want to maintain control of their information, seek transparency in their interactions with providers and are concerned about what might be done with their data. And we offer some tips from the FBI.

Willie Vogt

May 12, 2016

5 Min Read
<p>Rising use of data-focused tools and cloud-based computing bring along questions of ownership and security.</p>

At Farm Industry News, for the past few years, we've been carrying on a continuing data conversation, and we're far from done. We keep adding to the information you have available for decision-making. And it looks like you're paying attention, based on the results from a new survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation. And there's a report from the FBI and USDA you'll want to check out too.

First, that new survey from Farm Bureau shows that farmers and ranchers want to control the information their equipment collects during field operations. In addition, survey respondents appear to like the idea of a cooperative style central repository for their data to enhance security and maximize its value.

In a media release announcing survey stats, Zippy Duvall, president, AFBF, comments: "it is clear that boosting farmer confidence in security and data management will be critical to unlocking the potential this technology holds. This survey also shows that we are on the right track with various ag group initiatives designed to improve data integration and promote transparency about how the data is collected and used."

Farm Bureau is a founding member of the Ag Data Coalition, which includes several agriculture groups, companies and even universities, to help farmers better store and manage their information. This storage warehouse would be a transparent, but secure, place where farmers could centrally store their data.

"We see it as the next logical step in the industry," says Michael Gomes, vice president of business development for Topcon Precision Agriculture. "[We will] create a place you can go to and not worry about that someone may be 'back-ending' you on the data, and you'll know where your data is with a high-degree of transparency."

There is a concern among more farmers entering the world of Big Data that companies may be making money on the "back end" of the cloud by capturing data and selling it on the open market. With ADC that won't happen, Gomes says.

Gomes likens the idea to the original phone number. Back in the early days a phone number was the property of the carrier, today that phone number can follow the individual from carrier to carrier. That's what ADC means for data, you store it there and you can always access it for use in the analytic software of your choice.

He also notes that farmers need an easy way to access the data to work with trusted partners - and if it was all funneling into the ADC storage program it would be easy to pull together. "Today that data is between hard drives, laptops and who knows where and it's not always accessible to [the farmer]. We need a way to leverage and interact with others," Gomes explains.

In the Farm Bureau survey, 71% of respondents say they are interested in having access to the kind of data bank that ADC is developing, while 82% say it is important that farmers have a voice in the ag data cooperative.

The Farm Bureau survey connected with 400 farmers from 32 states and the group says it was representative of U.S. ag for major farm commodities. You can check out the full results of the survey online.

Here are a full bullet-point items from the survey report:

• 77% are concerned about which entities can access their farm data, and whether it could be used for regulatory purposes.

• 67% say they will consider how outside parties use and treat their data when deciding which technology or service provider to use.

• 66% believe farmers should share in the potential financial benefits from the use of their data beyond the direct value they may realize on their farm

• 61% are worried that companies could use their data to influence market decisions.

• 59% were confused whether current agreements or contracts allowed technology or service providers to use their data to market other services.

Farm Bureau is also leading the development of the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator, that allows to get an at-a-glance look at contracts and what they mean for your farm. It's a simple rating and you can dig deeper to read the actual agreements from the companies you're checking out. The list is small, but given the list of partners it should keep growing. It's worth checking out.

FBI, USDA develop data protection document

On another front, the FBI, working with USDA, issued a "Private Industry Notification" recently that offers insight into some other areas of concern - protecting your data from outsiders. After you collect data from your farm, and process it into useful information you want to keep it safe.

The document shares that FBI and USDA see the growing use of data-focused tools as a potential for increase cyber targeting activity for the food and agriculture sector with the intent to steal farm-level data in bulk. With any data-involved service this can be a threat, but there are steps you can do to protect your information.

The notification was designed just to make farmers aware of the issue and be aware so you can take specific steps to avoid trouble before it starts. Here are a few tips they offer:

• Monitor employee logins that occur outside normal business hours

• Use two-factor authentication for employee logins, especially remote logins (this may be a number texted to their phone that has to be entered along with a password)

• Create a centralized Information Technology e-mail account for employees to report suspicious emails.

• Provide regular training to remind everyone on the farm about current social engineering threats.

• Monitor unusual traffic, especially over what the FBI calls "non-standard ports."

• Monitor outgoing data, and be willing to block unknown internet protocol addresses.

• Close unused ports.

• Utilize a Virtual Private Network for remote login capability.

Some of these steps require you to consult with your computer adviser to set up, but considering them now before a data breach will make sense for the long haul. You can check out the entire FBI/USDA report online.

About the Author(s)

Willie Vogt

Executive Director, Content and User Engagement

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