You may have missed the release of a farmer survey about ag data during the middle of the first COVID-19 wave. In May 2020, an organization called Trust in Food, a collaboration of Farm Journal and The Sustainability Consortium, released the results of its survey of 393 farmers about their opinions on ag data collection, sharing and sustainability (Farmer Perspectives on Data). Here is a summary followed by some concluding thoughts.

  • Of the 393 farmers surveyed, 62% indicated that they did not use a farm-level data platform. On the other hand, 38% indicated that most of their records were already stored digitally.

  • Of those that use a data platform, satisfaction is mixed. About 30% were “entirely satisfied.” At the other end of the spectrum, about 25% were “completely dissatisfied.” The remaining farmers occupying the middle ground expressed a number of reasons for their concerns: (1) lack of compatibility/interoperability among platforms; (2) lack of relevance to certain farming systems; (3) outputs are not clear or usable; and (4) lack of training and support staff.

  • Farmers were asked to rank the barriers to sharing ag data. The greatest barrier was fear of government regulation, with 42% citing this as a “major” reason. The next greatest barrier to sharing data was “privacy,” with 36% calling this a major concern. Lacking the proper “equipment” was the next greatest barrier (34%), followed by the similar concern over the “cost” of new technology (30%).

  • When asked whether the farmer trusts different entities with their data, 40% said they did not trust their lenders to have their data; 60% would not trust their government with their data; and 59% would not trust a private company. 68% believe that ag data from production practices should be as tightly secured as health information.

All of the usual themes we’ve seen before are present in this latest survey—lack of trust, fear of regulation, and privacy concerns. But I am troubled by the very low adoption rate of digital platforms found in this survey—62% are not harnessing their production data by sharing with an online platform. Perhaps this is due to the demographics of respondents. Only about about 35% of respondents farm over 1000 acres. Are farms smaller than 1000 acres avoiding cloud-based data platforms? The survey is unclear.

Admittedly, it is difficult to glean trends from a survey where so many of the respondents have yet to embrace the technology that is the subject of the inquiry. If there is one takeaway from the survey, its this: ag data platforms still have a long way to go before reaching industry-wide adoption and acceptance.

You can read the entire survey results paper here: Farmer Perspective on Data