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Farm Data: Do you know who owns it?

published in McAfee & Taft tIPsheet and McAfee & Taft AgLINC Alert | April 1, 2016

Farm Data

By Jeff Todd

At its roots, farming consists of performing particular tasks – such as planting, fertilizing or harvesting – against a predetermined schedule. Advances in technology have allowed farmers to do these tasks in a more economical and efficient manner through the collection and manipulation of farm data. But, have you ever wondered who owns and ultimately controls the use of this data?

In exchange for the farm data, Agriculture Technology Providers (ATPs) provide the farmer access to a full range of innovative, technology-driven tools and services to boost the productivity, efficiency and profitability of American agriculture. These products generate and collect millions of bits of data about farmers’ fields, crops and equipment and manipulate it into a format that the farmer can find useful. For example, sensors are mounted to tractors, tilling equipment, planters, sprayers, harvesters and even agricultural drones to collect data, which represents, for example, location, temperature and humidity of the soil and surrounding air, images and video of crop fields, and crop health and water quality assessments. Based upon this information, farmers can make informed decisions about their operations.

Some farmers are concerned that ATPs might share the farm data collected in a manner disadvantageous to farmers, manipulate financial markets, or sell the data to third parties without compensating the farmer. Nevertheless, raw farm data is useless unless processed and analyzed by the ATP in a meaningful way, which requires the ATP to have some rights to the data.

Generally, service agreements between the ATP and the farmer define the rights of ownership, control and use of the farm data. While these agreements are similar to general data collection service agreements or data license agreements, particular attention must be given to the definition of “farm data” and who has control and ownership of the data at all stages of its use. Most of these agreements state that the farmer owns the initial data produced, but not all of the agreements clearly define control and ownership after collection and manipulation of the data or aggregation with other farmers’ data.

As such, ATPs should consult with legal counsel familiar with this technology and data-related contracts to assist them with drafting provisions that not only encourage customer trust, but also provide clarity with respect to ownership, control, and use of the data collected. Likewise, before entering into a service agreement with an ATP, farmers should consult legal counsel to determine their rights to the data collected and to what extent their rights allow them to control the use of such data.

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