On the Farm: Startups Put Data in Farmers’ Hands

Jacob Bunge at the Wall Street Journal: “Farmers and entrepreneurs are starting to compete with agribusiness giants over the newest commodity being harvested on U.S. farms—one measured in bytes, not bushels.

Startups including Farmobile LLC, Granular Inc. and Grower Information Services Cooperative are developing computer systems that will enable farmers to capture data streaming from their tractors and combines, store it in digital silos and market it to agriculture companies or futures traders. Such platforms could allow farmers to reap larger profits from a technology revolution sweeping the U.S. Farm Belt and give them more control over the information generated on their fields.

The efforts in some cases would challenge a wave of data-analysis tools from big agricultural companies such as Monsanto Co., DuPontCo., Deere & Co. and Cargill Inc. Those systems harness modern planters, combines and other machinery outfitted with sensors to track planting, spraying and harvesting, then crunch that data to provide farm-management guidance that these firms say can help farmers curb costs and grow larger crops. The companies say farmers own their data, and it won’t be sold to third parties.

Some farmers and entrepreneurs say crop producers can get the most from their data by compiling and analyzing it themselves—for instance, to determine the best time to apply fertilizer to their soil and how much. Then, farmers could profit further by selling data to seed, pesticide and equipment makers seeking a glimpse into how and when farmers use machinery and crop supplies.

The new ventures come as farmers weigh the potential benefits of sharing their data with large agricultural firms against privacy concerns and fears that agribusinesses could leverage farm-level information to charge higher rates for seeds, pesticides and other supplies.

“We need to get farmers involved in this because it’s their information,” said Dewey Hukill, board president of Grower Information Services Cooperative, or GISC, a farmer-owned cooperative that is building a platform to collect its members’ data. The cooperative has signed up about 1,500 members across 37 states….

Companies developing markets for farm data say it’s not their intention to displace big seed and machinery suppliers but to give farmers a platform that would enable them to manage their own information. Storing and selling their own data wouldn’t necessarily bar a farmer from sharing information with a seed company to get a planting recommendation, they say….(More)”