Panelists talk to farmers and ranchers about big data in agriculture Wednesday at the Colorado Farm Show in Greeley | TheFencePost.com
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Panelists talk to farmers and ranchers about big data in agriculture Wednesday at the Colorado Farm Show in Greeley

Kelly Ragan
Margaret Maizel

Small town farmers and ranchers plugged into big data Jan. 27 at the Colorado Farm Show during the Big Bad Farm Data panel.

Colorado farmers are, for the most part, not against big data, or the aggregate system that collects farm data, such as acreage and yield numbers.

“I’m still processing and digesting it,” said Laura Negley of Eads, who was among the roughly 30 people who attended the discussion on the second day of the farm show at Island Grove Regional Event Center. “This will help me make decisions going forward. It’ll help me have conversations with my 22-year-old son who wants to come back into farming. People in this generation love having access to that information.”

However, concerns exist over the developing system.

Panelists addressed some of the most pressing questions. Negley said the biggest concern was privacy. Government agencies and private companies of all stripes collect and analyze the information that comes to be known as big data. And that raises a host of questions about who owns the information.

Margaret Maizel, panelist and president of Visual Farms in Fort Collins, referenced a lawsuit filed by the Washington Post a couple years ago, which made the names of farmers benefiting from public funds available. She agreed the information should be public, however, since it listed the names and addresses of those farmers online, it was inappropriate.

She suggested big data companies look to other successful data collectors within the government, such as the Census Bureau, for privacy models.

Panelist Scott Luallin, the systems architect for Intrado, recommended creating rules for who can and can’t see certain content.

Longmont’s Brian Campbell works on the technology side of data, collecting it as the senior project manager at Intrado.

“I think (panelists) made a good point. We’ve become kind of numb to the ‘I agree’ button,” Campbell said. “We have to be cognizant of what matters to the customer. Privacy has to be built into data.”

Along with privacy, there is contention about who owns data collected on ag operations and whether there is potential to monetize it.

Thus far, data providers, who are typically the producers, do not receive compensation. It’s possible payment will be used as an incentive as systems continue to grow and develop.

Negley, who grows dryland wheat and raises cattle, doesn’t yet feel any benefits from big data as a producer.

“Aggregate information isn’t going to be beneficial to the average producer,” Negley said. “To incorporate that information into your business model, it has to be more specific.” However, Negley views big data as an available tool.

“It’s either you can be dragged into it kicking and screaming or you can step up and say ‘this can be a good tool,’” Negley said. ❖


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