By Amy Skoczlas Cole

The Pathway To Helping Producers Do More With Data 

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October 21, 2023

We’ve been talking about the opportunities and perils of producers and farm-level data management together with our colleagues at The Sustainability Consortium for quite a while.

But the topic is now gaining more mainstream attention.

An Aug. 22 article by Belle Lin in The Wall Street Journal asserts that the utilization of data is lower than expected a decade after an arms race of technology solutions for producers began in earnest.

Our research shows that only about one-third of row crop producers are collecting digitized data on their operations, and that a vast majority of those same producers do not believe that consumers have a right to information about farm-level production practices. 

Even for those producers who are collecting data, the value proposition still seems fuzzy. Lin quotes David Emmert, an Indiana corn and soybean farmer who works about 4,300 acres: “We’re collecting so much data that you’re almost paralyzed with having to analyze it all.” 

Whether or not this feels like a fair depiction of reality to you, a few things are clear:

  • Consumers are more interested than ever in information about how their food is produced.
  • Data is becoming the currency we need to prove meaningful farm-level climate-smart action.
  • Without data, today people outside agriculture are educating the public. From media to formal education curricula in grade school to university, non-endemic narratives are shaping our story.
  • Producers face all sorts of barriers to data collection and utilization.
  • And above all else, producer data privacy and use is an area of deep and growing concern.

You can download our research reports for free here.

The opportunity to use better data to create insights that support producers in taking pragmatic action is well within reach. But that has to begin with a deep understanding of the barriers and concerns that producers face.

At Trust In Food, our Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Connected Ag Project will trial different approaches to supporting producers in collecting and using data in ways that add increased value and support their operations. This turnkey program will learn how to close the digitized farm data gap and share those learnings for every size and type of production system. We’re eager to connect with others examining how to help farmers find value in data, so please reach out. 

As producers continue to find success with how data improves their operations, we also look forward to sharing their stories. Below, we’ve included a story about Alex Harrell, who set a new soybean yield record this year. How’d he do it? Through regular use of soil and tissue sampling to guide his management decisions. 

There’s no doubt that better data leads to better decisions and better outcomes. Let’s work together to overcome the technical and cultural challenges to increased data use in order to unlock the promise of big data in agriculture and prove to consumers that U.S. agriculture is leading the way on sustainability concerns. You can reach me at acole@farmjournal.com.

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