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Big data could change role of the farmer, Guild AGM is told

Published on 4th April 2014

Data

IN-DEPTH agricultural data could lead to a reappraisal of the farmer’s role within the industry and supply chain, a senior economic analyst has claimed.

Harry Smit, an analyst at Rabobank, spoke at the Guild AGM in Oxford and suggested farm data could be a game changer in a number of ways.

Mr Smit gave the example of a seed or fertiliser company understanding down to individual field level about variances in soil structure or nutrition content. Armed with this knowledge, he said, those firms could target their products to the farmer knowing exactly how they would perform in different fields.

He said in the US Monsanto had ‘field scripts’ which were an early example of this, but there was huge scope for the technology to advance.

He added: “It could get to the stage where a seed firm can almost predict yields for a field.”

By using algorithms, he said, the seed or fertiliser company could almost predict the outcome of their applications.

“It changes the role of the farmer and where the power lies. It is a changing context for the farmer.

“You could have a situation in which input suppliers are offering targeted solutions and offtakers [retailers/processors] are looking to lock-in supply.

“Can the farmer retain independence? Will we have contract farmers being told what to do by input suppliers and offtakers?”

Mr Smit said this scenario was more likely in countries such as the US or Russia where the scale of the industry - and farms - was so much greater than in Europe.

He also raised the question of who owned the data once it had been collated; the farmer collating it, the software provider or the input company using it for their own analysis and commercial needs?

“Selling land with data or without data will become an interesting proposition and raises questions about who owns it,” he said.

Farmers would have to work harder to retain exclusivity when it came to ownership of this knowledge, especially when it had the capacity to alter the price of land, he said.

Massey Ferguson brand development chief, Campbell Scott, told the same event the challenge was to use burgeoning technology and data resources to provide practical solutions for farmers.

Ben Briggs

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