Back in the mid-1980s, I wrote about how GPS would revolutionize our lives. One of my books published back then was called Advances in Agriculture, in which I highlighted how GPS would transform agriculture in the 1990s and beyond.
Those predictions came true thanks to smart tractors from John Deere. Farmers can collect data via GPS to determine exactly where in the field they’re getting the best and worst yields, foot by foot, as they harvest, allowing them to plug that data into their planters and know exactly where to plant more seeds and maximize their yields.
And because the data comes from the farmers’ equipment and is downloaded onto a memory stick that stays with the farmers, it becomes the farmers’ intellectual property; it’s their data.
Prying Eyes on Farmer’s Agriculture Data
However, as you may remember, Monsanto, one of the biggest companies in agriculture providing seeds for genetically modified crops, approached the farmers and made an interesting offer. It wanted all the farmers’ data to go directly from harvesters and planters to the Monsanto cloud, permitting them to the specifics of what grows well and where. In return, Monsanto provided farmers with information on the best ways to work their fields as well as the best tools for getting the highest yield and the most profitability.
On the surface, that’s a great incentive for the farmers. But the question remains: Who owns the data now? Before going any further, I want to be clear in saying that this example is not about whether Monsanto is doing something good or bad; rather, it is about looking at predictable problems and working together to find solutions before problems begin.
Who Owns What?
In this example, there are some big-picture questions that need to be discussed and resolved: If Monsanto can get the majority of farmers to agree to let it collect all harvesting and planting data, would Monsanto be able to predict the property values of farms better than anyone else? Would it be able to predict yields and pricing faster than anyone else? Would it have more success in the commodities market by having access to real-time yield information before anyone else?