Read the Fine Print

Who Owns and Controls Farm Data?

by BRAD BUCK, UF/IFAS correspondent

With the rapid development of artificial intelligence, data derived from farms might be more valuable than the crops that growers produce. That’s because farmers can make money from their data when companies use it for other purposes, says a University of Florida scientist. 


The key for producers is to take ownership of their data. To do so, they might have to read the fine print in the contracts with the ag firms. 


“Once farmers own their original data, and give their consent for any access, disclosure or use, they can receive long-term income of their data harvest,” says Ziwen Yu, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering.


Yu co-authored a new UF/IFAS Extension document that describes who owns farm-generated data. Other authors of the document are Albert De Vries, a UF/IFAS professor of animal sciences in Gainesville, and Yiannis Ampatzidis, a UF/IFAS associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee.


“Farmers’ primary reservation about embracing data-driven technologies stems from their concerns that they might lose ownership and control of their data from which agriculture technology providers derive high-value products,” Yu says. “The most important aspect is to understand the new role they will play in the next era and the associated rights and obligations for all entities in the industry. The bottom line for this evolution is whoever owns the data — in this case, farmers — can claim the exclusive right to license access and use of data by others.” 


In contracts, all entities related to such data may claim ownership of the information, Yu says. Ultimately, ag-tech firms usually earn the lion’s share of the money from the data by using it for other purposes, including smart devices and their services, upgrades for existing products and data transactions.


In the report, Yu draws a pyramid to describe how farm data is used.


At the bottom are environmental facts – raw data like how much water farmers use to irrigate their crops. Next up are agricultural operation data – the information a grower uses to more efficiently run the farm. At the top of the pyramid, you see “business data.” Agricultural technology companies use this data to make money. 


For example, if a company would like to use data from several farms for crop disease detection, it must get permission from farmers to access their data and may very likely pay for it.


Agricultural technology partners attribute data from the land at which it was collected, the device by which it was measured, the farmer who arranged the operation rate and sequence, the cloud services where it was stored, etc. These firms own most farm data, including the raw information — environmental facts that farmers cannot copyright, but they can share.


“Some farmers don’t know that or don’t have the time or inclination to closely peruse the contracts associated with the data,” Yu says. “But we urge them to read the contracts carefully to know their rights.”

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