The British Farm Data Council (BFDC) has been set up to provide a recognised standard of care, security and ownership of farmers’ data.
It hopes to launch late this year, by which time it will have several companies signed up to its code of practice.
These will have gone through a certification process that means they will set out clearly how they will use farmers’ data.
The council is independent, not-for-profit and made up of a cross-section of industry people.
Data sharing can help businesses become more efficient and environmentally sustainable.
The council aims to get away from the often one-way traffic of information where farmers are expected to give over their data but get little, if anything, in return.
It aims to enable clear recognition for farms, companies and organisations across the agricultural industry that champion fair and appropriate data rights.
Dr Julian Little, co-ordinator of the BFDC, says: “A farmer’s data belongs to them – we need to build trust in companies who are doing things in a more transparent way.
“What we are trying to achieve through BFDC certification is to remove those inherent doubts so that these data and tools can be used to increase sustainability, both economically and environmentally, for UK farms.”
The biggest concerns revolve around trust and confidentiality, and what constitutes an appropriate standard of data governance, the BFDC says, so most farmers are wary of participation in data initiatives because of the associated and largely unknown risks.
Examples of poor practice in farm data use include automatic opt-ins for data sharing.
“The standard should be that if a farmer is to give permission for data to be used or shared, it should be made clear how that data will be used or shared, and they should have to take an action to agree to this, not for them to have to take an action to opt out of it,” says Julian.
Participation in the BFDC’s scheme by those doing business with farmers and with an interest in their data will be voluntary, under guidelines for good practice.
Following an accreditation process, there will be certification for those signing up to the initiative.
BFDC’s terms of reference recognise that farm data governance is important, but that there is also general unease that things are not being done properly.
There are few or no safeguards outside the narrow confines of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation, and no one is sure what “good” looks like, says Julian.
The council aims to accelerate digitisation of the industry and the associated potential benefits in productivity, sustainability and performance.
To start with, it is surveying the current farm data landscape so it can set out what a gold standard might look like.
Its first two years are being funded by farm data intelligence business Yagro, a subsidiary of Frontier Agriculture.
After this initial period, the plan is for certification income from companies signing up to the initiative to cover the running costs of the council and the accreditation process.
What about the long term?
Julian says the BFDC is focused on getting things done and making improvements, rather than achieving long-term lofty aims, although the eventual establishment of a British Standard or International Organization for Standardization accreditation is not being ruled out.
He suggests that farmers ask those they do business with whether they are going to sign up to the BFDC standard.
“If they say yes, that’s great,” he says. “If they’ve never head of us, point them in our direction. If they say no, ask them why not.”
Also, farmers who are asked for agreement to use of their data should read the small print, he says, even though this is often quite a task.
“If things are not clear, ask ‘how will my data be used?’ If they are a bona fide firm, they will help you understand this.”
Where a business signs up to the BFDC standard and is certified, if it is then shown to be failing to stick to that BFDC commitment, it will lose its certification.
Who is on the BFDC?
- Prof Tina Barsby Chairwoman. Former chief executive of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany
- Sarah Bell Farmer and strategic adviser for the agricultural supply chain
- Dr Susannah Bolton Vice-principal for enterprise and knowledge exchange at SRUC
- Sarah Cowlrick Chief executive of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants
- Hugh Crabtree Owner of pig ventilation equipment maker Farmex and co-owner of Dicam Technology, which makes agricultural control, big data monitoring and alarm/notification applications
- Gareth Davies Managing director and co-founder of Yagro farm data intelligence business
- Dr Helen Ferrier Chief science and regulatory affairs adviser at the NFU
- Poul Hovesen Chairman of Catalyst Farming, a group of five farming companies that work in collaboration to use their data to enhance production, financial and ecological measures
- David Hutchinson Chairman and co-owner of Hutchinsons agronomy services, supplies, and farm digital systems
Council members serve as individuals, rather than as corporate representatives.
What is the British Farm Data Council
The BFDC is an independent non-profit organisation which provides direction and certification to the British farming industry on the standards and principles for farm data governance.
Its principles are independence, impartiality, transparency, equitability, and to be action-oriented and collaborative across sectors.
It consults with industry groups and bodies such as the NFU, AHDB, CLA, AIC, Red Tractor, Leaf and CropLife UK, and along the food supply chain to retailers, senior policy makers and scientific research bodies.
Its eight board members serve two-year terms.
What’s happening in other countries?
Farm data, its use and ownership are hot topics elsewhere too, with several counties and federations developing voluntary safeguards in recent years.
The EU Code of Conduct on Agricultural Data Sharing is voluntary and aims to shed light on contractual relations and provide guidance on the use of farm data.
Checks for farmers include what data is collected, who owns/controls access to it, what it will be used for, including whether it will be shared and whether this is made clear, and whether the farmer can disagree with use of the data.
The National Farmers Federation (NFF) has developed and adopted the Australian Farm Data Code in consultation with industry and with support from the Australian government.
This aims to promote adoption of digital technology and ensure farmers have comfort in how their data is used, managed, and shared.
Product and service providers that manage data on behalf of farmers and that fully comply with the code are eligible to be certified by the NFF.
Ag Data Transparent2 is a set of guidelines on privacy and security principles for companies collecting, storing, analysing and using farmer’s data.
Provided 11 questions are satisfactorily addressed, companies can be certified under the scheme. The questions cover data ownership, use, portability and security.
Organisations that collect, store and share primary production data can commit to the Farm Data Code.
Those observing the code agree to use common terminology to make it easier to share land and animal data securely and with permission.
The aim is to increase the rate at which data can securely move between organisations, to speed up innovation.
Farm data issues? Get in touch
The BFDC would like to hear from farmers about the way their farm data is used, or with questions about its use.
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Telephone 07900 276999