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    Open Ag Technology Group at Purdue University
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Is Your Farm Data Secure?

Is Your Farm Data Secure?

The general narrative surrounding data in agriculture has mostly been about the unknown scariness of “the cloud”.   The name seems so innocuous: “clouds” are bright, fluffy, huggable balls of rain in the sky that water my crops, right?  We’re told, “Beware the friendly façade: that cloud is hiding a secretly dark and devastating storm of privacy, security, and overall badness.”  It’s hard not to notice the stories of a place named “Target” being an actual “target” of nefarious minds out to steal from us.

Observing this, many farmers can identify with the character in the above illustration that data kept on the farm is “safe”, and all this talk about “the cloud” is really just a confusing fog of misdirection designed to fool us into turning over our data to the corporations, environmental groups, and hackers who don’t have our best interests in mind.

Most farmers feel there is value in their data.  The proof of this is that almost every farm has a stack of paper records, old planter notebooks, binders of printed spreadsheets, and soil test results from days gone by.  We keep this “data” because, that stack of paper is a concrete reminder of the annual battles fought with nature, people, money, and chance.  We keep it because as years pass by and details of our memories begin to fade, we could go back to those hard copies and revisit the lessons of all those ideas, successes, and failures.  We probably won’t, but the fact that we could is comforting.

The other proof of the farmer’s belief in the value of their data is the rapid adoption of yield monitors in harvesters.  Farmers have been struggling to turn those pretty, colorful yield maps into actionable intelligence since their inception many years ago.  We have consistently paid thousands of dollars to equip our combines with yield monitors long before we had the ability to show any concrete returns on that investment.  I’ve got eleven years of yield data sitting on a computer in my house waiting for someone to figure out what to do with it.  And yes, some of those years the monitor was not exactly calibrated properly.  Doesn’t matter though, the map still looks legit because it has lots of pretty colors on it.  The sad truth is that if one of my yield maps was just a copy of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” very little would be different.

Yield Map

If your yield map looked like this, would any decisions have been made differently on your farm? [1]

To complicate matters, some of the companies you trust enough to handle your data have shown reluctance to agree with you on what data is actually yours and what data is theirs.  There are generally two classes of people in this debate: people who believe the data generated on your farm is yours, and those who don’t.  I like to call the first class of people “farmers” and the latter class “not farmers”.

The purpose of this discussion is to unwind some tightly knotted questions around data in agriculture:

  1. What is it?
  2. Is My Ag Data valuable?
  3. What am I supposed to do with it?
  4. How do I get value from my data (part 1 of 2)
  5. How do I get value from my data (part 2 of 2)
  6. How does the cloud fit in?
  7. What do other people want to do with my data?
  8. What’s the deal with privacy and security?
  9. And, the most important question, since “data” is not “growing corn” or “feeding cows”, why should a farmer care about this cloud stuff, anyway?

These discussions topics will be posted every Wednesday for the next 10 weeks and we encourage you to contribute to the conversation. We will also provide a link back so that you can find them quickly from this blog post.

[1] Blended images from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/66/VanGogh-starry_night_ballance1.jpg and http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/01/Soybean_Grain_Yield_Map.jpg