27 Jan, 2023

Big Data and Farms

Lorraine Donoghue, Head of HR and Legal in ifac, looks at the future of farmer-owned data as the rush begins to monetise agricultural data.

Agricultural output is growing, in part due to the use of digitally enhanced tools on farms. Using big data could help farmers step into the future of agriculture and achieve ambitious targets.

A smart farm uses sensors and mobile-phone applications combined with agricultural, environmental and economic data to assist farmers in their decision-making, planning and management.

Studies have shown that farmers are only sometimes willing to share data. Some of the concerns that reduce farmers’ motivation to share data come from their view that laws do not support their rights concerning data protection and privacy. It is mainly because most agricultural data is considered non-personal and therefore falls outside the scope of data protection legislation (GDPR), which provides rights to identifiable individuals.

Recently, some privacy and security principles and data codes of conduct have been considered with a view to addressing farmers’ concerns. 

To deal with this issue and to encourage farmers to share data, agricultural stakeholders in the US, EU, and New Zealand created voluntary data rules (codes of conduct) which seek to introduce GDPR-like data rights for farmers, such as consent, access, portability and transparency. 

Codes of Conduct

Codes of Conduct are voluntary sets of rules that assist members of that Code with data protection compliance and accountability in specific sectors or relating to particular processing operations.

The EU Code of Conduct on agricultural data sharing by contractual agreement

The EU Code recognises the unprecedented level of data being collected on farms through digital technologies. Data collection includes information on livestock, fish, land and agronomic, climate, machine, financial, and compliance. While some of this data may be deemed personal or special category data, it may also be deemed non-personal.

The EU Code defines roles and processes in data sharing in agriculture and introduces default principles. 

The Code suggests that farmers use a checklist when entering into a contract with service providers to ensure a balanced contract is agreed.

It is difficult for farmers to achieve a balanced contract with suppliers as many supplier contracts are written by legal experts rather than in plain English. On the other hand, the farmer may be under time pressure to complete the deal without getting legal advice.

The US Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data (the US Principles)

The American Farm Bureau Federation, working with commodity groups, farm organisations, and agriculture technology providers, helped to establish the US Principles.

The Principles cover ownership, transparency, portability, collection, access and control. The signatories formed the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator Inc., which audits companies’ ag-data contracts and issues the Ag Data Transparency Seal, a certificate of conformity with the principles for data collecting in Agri-tech companies.

The New Zealand Farm Data Code of Practice aims to establish a clear set of guidelines enabling the effective sharing of data within the New Zealand agricultural industry. 

The Code of Practice aims to enhance the ability to do business by improving the ease of access to data without duplication and by encouraging the adoption of technology. 

Organisations meeting the Farm Data Code of Practice agree to help farmers and other users understand the following:

  • Who has rights to the data held;

  • How data is processed and shared;

  • How data is secured and stored. 

Organisations meeting the Farm Data Code of Practice agree to implement practices that provide farmers with the utmost confidence that their data is safe and managed appropriately.

Accredited Organisations meeting the Farm Data Code of Practice display an accreditation certificate.

The Code is

  • A promise to store data securely.

  • A pledge to securely share data upon a farmer's request.

  • A commitment to use industry standards for data.

  • Is one part of a broader industry strategy to speed up innovation in the rural sector.


Farmers should

1.     Seek an accreditation scheme for suppliers.

2.     Seek legal advice before entering into a contract with a supplier. 

3.     Ensure that their rights are recognised in a commercial agreement.

4.     Seek compensation from suppliers or the government for providing data.