What we mean when we say Farm Data

21st April 2023

The British Farm Data Council was formed by a group of individuals from across the farming industry who believe that greater use of data can help farmers and growers in the UK to improve their productivity, resilience, profitability and sustainability. However, opportunities are not being realised in part due to a lack of trust in an appropriate standard of data governance. In this article we explore what we mean by Farm Data, recognising that different people will have different views on the subject.

When the British Farm Data Council first met to talk about how to establish governance standards around farm data, it became apparent that we did not have a definition of what “farm data” was. We all had ideas in our heads but it was difficult to have a tangible description. For a farmer or grower’s, working with farm data is an exercise in connecting the dots of all the bits of information, data and feedback that might be written in a notebook or typed into a PC.  Likewise, in its simplest form, data-driven agriculture is about taking that information, processing and using it to guide future decisions on the farm.  

We are also very clear that we are talking about farm data rather than data about the farmer; the rules on this sort of data are strongly governed under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and therefore lie outside the scope of the Council’s activities.

We talk about data in terms of information about the farm business that is generated on the farm or through the farming operation. It might therefore relate to farm management decisions, land use, inputs, yield, soils, agronomy (including cropping), weather, livestock husbandry, environmental services, or machinery. 

One thing is for sure, there will never a definitive list. There is huge variation between farms and everyone has a different viewpoint.  For example, most people would accept that it would be almost impossible to claim that satellite data is the property of a particular farmer, but what about data gathered by a drone?

Likewise, if a representative of a seed company asks a farmer how many acres of a particular crop they are growing every year and how they are managing it, a picture of that farm will build up. Does that data belong to the farmer even though the data was freely given as part of a commercial relationship? Does it fall within the scope of the British Farm Data Council governance principles? We believe it does, in the sense that it is important that the seed company stores and looks after that data within a suitable Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and that it is only shared with the express permission of the farmer.

We also recognise that some aspects of farming require data sharing just to “be in the game”. This is especially true with livestock contracts where sharing of data such as antibiotic use, captured by AHDB’s Medicine Hub, is a Red Tractor requirement, and increasingly demanded by retailers.

Regulators working for Government departments also collect data for statutory reasons; this might include pesticide use or fertilisers, for example. It would be great to get DEFRA and other departments to endorse the British Farm Data Council principles, even if not to seek accreditation, given that openness is hugely beneficial, but trust in regulators is hard won and easily lost.

What do you think constitutes farm data? Are you happy that there is not a precise definition, or how would a precise definition help define governance principles? What problems might you see arise? Contact the Council 

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