Agriculture companies launch effort to standardize, secure farm data

CHICAGO, March 11 Tue Mar 11, 2014 3:38pm EDT

CHICAGO, March 11 (Reuters) - Purdue University researchers and a group of agricultural companies on Tuesday announced an open source project to standardize farm data formats and improve communication between farm equipment and farm management tools made by different companies.

The Open Agriculture Data Alliance, or OADA, will also seek to set standards on data privacy and security, among the top concerns of farmers gathering and sharing increasingly deep pools of data from high tech farm machines armed with global positioning technology and wireless data transfer capability.

"The purpose is to solve some of the issues that farmers have dealing with their data," said Aaron Ault, a senior research engineer at Purdue's Open Ag Technology Group and project lead for the OADA.

Agricultural data can include everything from farm financial documents and futures market positions to the number of seeds planted per acre and inches rainfall in each field.

"We will solve as many problems with technological solutions as we possibly can. The ones that we cannot solve with technological solutions we will solve with common language that lets the farmer know, up front, what it is they are getting into when they enter into agreements with these different companies."

Also involved in the effort are agricultural data science company The Climate Corporation, Valley Irrigation, farm cooperative GROWMARK, equipment maker CNH Industrial and seed company AgReliant Genetics. Other participants include farm products suppliers Wilbur-Ellis Company and WinField.

Agriculture companies such as John Deere, DuPont Pioneer and Climate Corp parent Monsanto have been investing heavily in precision agriculture and data analytics tools over the past year. They have launched services that will analyze data and make recommendations to boost crop yields or increase efficiency by pairing soil types with optimal seeds or focusing chemical applications only where they are needed.

But the high tech tools have raised concerns that data shared by farmers could be misused or sold to third parties. Although the companies have reassured farmers that their data is safe in often-lengthy privacy statements, the OADA will seek to standardize privacy and security guidelines industry wide.

OADA will also create a "reference implementation" of a cloud storage and data analytics service to set an example for the industry on how an OADA-compliant system should function. Developers are invited to contribute software code to improve upon the template or use it to create their own OADA-compliant tools.

"No company owns the intellectual property that is part of the project so how each company decides to take it and use it to their own benefit is really up to them," Ault said.

"It really opens up the ability for small players to innovate. And it allows the farmer to choose the best-in-class solution instead of the one that happens to work with his equipment today," he said.

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