Thursday, January 7, 2016

Agriculture Big Data Legal Issues and Protections: Part 4 - Legal Concerns Regarding the Use of Big Agricultural Data

Written by M. Sean High – Staff Attorney

Though agricultural Big Data offers the prospect of higher yields and greater profitability, many farmers are fearful of the potential consequences that could follow after their individual information has been submitted for aggregation and analysis.

Concerns regarding data ownership
Contracts between farmers and agricultural Big Data companies “are generally a license agreement whereby the farmer retains ownership of the information, [however,] most also give the companies free rein to conduct studies and use the data tocreate highly profitable products.” As a result, once a farmer’s individual agricultural information is transmitted to the agricultural Big Data companies and aggregated, the aggregated information is most likely owned by the agricultural Big Data companies.

Today, many large seed companies, “such as…Monsanto and DuPont are now as much data-technology companies as they are makers of…seeds.” As a result, farmers have raised conflict of interest concerns due to the seed companies’ financial incentive to encourage the planting of more their product.  In response, many agricultural Big Data companies have included farmer protections in their policy documents regarding the ownership and privacy of agricultural information.  These policy statements, however, are not legally binding agreements and may be subject to future revision.

Concerns regarding Wall Street
Farmers have also indicated concern that their agricultural data could fall into the hands of Wall Street commodities traders who would then use the information to make bets on futures contracts.  The concern is that the overall effect of these bets would lower futures-contract prices early in the growing season; thereby deny farmers the opportunity to make a profit through selling futures-contracts that lock-in higher crop prices.  

Concerns regarding other farmers

Finally, farmers have expressed fear that their information could be used by other farmers competing to rent the same farmland.  The concern is that through the use of information relating to crop yields, rival farmers will see untapped potential in rented farmland.  Farmers fear that this knowledge will cause competition for the rented farmland and ultimately result in higher land rents. 

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