Ownership and Protections of Farm Data

Farm data has been a contentious point of debate with respect to ownership rights and impacts when access rights are misappropriated. One of the leading questions farmers ask deals with the protections provided to farm data. Although no specific laws or precedence exists, the possibility of trade secret is examined and ramifications for damages discussed. Farm management examples are provided to emphasize the potential outcomes of each possible recourse for misappropriating farm data.


Discussions of farm data are a topic of conversation heard on local and national news stations, newspapers, and the corner coffee shop or gas stations. But what actually is “big data” or “farm data,” and what do agriculturalists need to know about it?

In short, “big data in agriculture” can be thought of as aggregated farm data gathered from numerous farming operations into a single databank or repository. This repository archives data into a community and hosts tools to analyze the data. For example, a corn grower may collect site-specific geospatial and meta-data across many acres under their control, then submit that data to the community to be combined with many other growers’ data. Site-specific geospatial data may include applied seeding rates, soil nutrient information, and yield monitor data. Meta-data includes the number of acres, and when, where, and which inputs applied and cultivars planted.

The general consensus in agriculture is that combining data into a community with many other growers’ data across a geographic region is considered big data. These data are then shared with an agricultural technology provider (ATP), such as startup companies, cooperatives of farmers, or other public or private sector entities, through a cloud-based system.

The benefits of agricultural data can be vast but as of yet largely unproven. Farm data has the potential, for example, to assist in developing prescriptive planting programs, customized fertilizer if data has to do with soil, pesticide application, hybrid seed selection, and so on. Besides farm and industry benefits, farm data can potentially benefit society as a whole by examining issues for the public good which may otherwise go unaddressed. Although improved societal welfare such as clean water and reduced pollution benefits everyone, ATPs and the like do not directly address these issues. Public entities such as the Land Grant University System, however, do have incentives to address these concerns and are now empowered to do so with ample farm data.

Data from best management practices surrounding manure and waste, for example, may help researchers determine which practices best enhance the health of waterways. On the flip side are concerns and risks surrounding farm data. History shows the law rarely keeps up with technology and farm data are no exception. Courts often struggle when applying existing laws and previous rulings to modern technology. State legislatures can help by clearly defining the rules to guide courts in handling new technology (Goeringer et al., 2015).

Read more here.

Source: Kansas State University

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