Why companies should engage with data governance

8th August 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 discuss why guiding principles should be welcomed and followed by companies working with farm data.

As discussed in Principles blog, members of the British Farm Data Council were keen to frame our work on data governance with the goal of answering two questions:

• Would a farmer or grower recognise companies and organisations that signed up to the principles as being better partners to work with, when it comes to data, than those who didn’t? 

• Would a company be prepared to sign up to these principles (and under what circumstances)?

So why would a company be interested in doing so? Most companies working with farm data are conscientious organisations that recognise that a sustainable business model involves delivering useful insight to farmers and growers that genuinely guides their decision-making towards increased productivity, resilience, profitability and/or sustainability. And in return, the farmer or grower pays the company for those insights; a symbiotic partnership that builds trust and works for both parties.

If you are a farmer or grower, how do you distinguish between those sorts of companies and others that might be less conscientious with a farm business’ data? How does a reputable company distance its activities from those of the less reputable ones who are undermining trust and confidence around data across the whole industry?

Most sectors in agriculture have some sort of assurance or accreditation system which is underpinned by high level principles. Thus buying produce made to the Red Tractor scheme should guarantee a certain level of quality; buying produce through a LEAF-accredited farmer should guarantee certain aspects of sustainability; and buying RSPCA-assured food should guarantee good animal welfare.

If you are looking for agronomic advice, you would seek out someone who is BASIS qualified and if they are independent, you might want to check that they are members of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants whose members adhere to a strict code of conduct.

If we could reproduce this concept for companies working with farm data, we would have a self-regulated industry initiative which would build trust among farmers and growers. Farmers would then be encouraged to work only with companies who sign up to these principles, leaving those not able to deliver clear benefit from a farmer's investment in data sharing, less competitive.

A decision as to whether to sign up will of course depend on a number of things, including the five following topics:

1. Does it fit with your company ethos? You may be doing all the right things but feel that being certified for it is not something you want to do. This is absolutely fine but, as discussed there may be an advantage to do so.

2. Do you feel the certification is credible? Which organisations have endorsed the principles and which other companies and organisations have already signed up?

3. How prescriptive are the requirements? This is a critically important consideration which will be the subject of another discussion. The Council is keen to make any certification process as non-prescriptive as possible, recognising that there is not only one way of achieving success. One scenario would be a relatively structured questionnaire which would take the organisation through the principles asking them to detail how they approach the issues of data governance.

4. How expensive is it to get certification? Although the cost for a company or organisation seeking certification has yet to be determined, we would hope that this would not be a game-changer. This initiative is not designed to make a profit and the fees only exist to cover the costs of the initiative.

5. What happens if you sign up and then do not follow the principles? A process for complaint and audit will be put in place, and protocols for these are being developed. 

In the end, if your company is working with farm data and takes data governance seriously, signing up to these high-level principles will not be onerous and may offer you a competitive advantage. If your company has only recently started, and you do not have all the governance procedures in place, then the certification process might be a great place to start getting this area of your business in order.

Do agree with our views on why companies should sign up to these Principles? What other reasons do you see for not doing so? Contact the Council

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