As farmers gear up for planting season, a common question asked is who owns farm data generated by agriculture technology providers (“ATP”)? The answer isn’t as simple as it should seem.
Farm data is generally defined as data collected and analyzed from sensors and software on planters, combines, sprayers and other farm implements. Farm data can be used to help farmers improve efficiency, reduce inputs, know when to irrigate, produce better yields and ultimately make higher profits. However, farmers have concerns over how their agricultural data may be used, shared and sold which may lead to adverse economic or commercial consequences for the farmer. For example, will farm data be accessible to government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, used by Wall Street traders to speculate or manipulate the commodities market or leveraged by seed and chemical companies? The issue is further exasperated when multiple parties are involved. For instance:
- Does a landowner own farm data generated on their land or the tenant?
- Does a co-op that applies the fertilizer and/or pesticide own the farm data or the farmer who pays for the application?
- Does the owner of the precision ag hardware that collects the data own the farm data or the farmer on whose land the equipment is used?
In light of these questions and concerns, the American Farm Bureau Federation led a consortium of thirty-five farm and commodity groups to set forth “Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data.” The principles state with regard to farm data ownership:
Ownership: We believe farmers own information generated on their farming operations. However, it is the responsibility of the farmer to agree upon data use and sharing with the other stakeholders with an economic interest, such as the tenant, landowner, cooperative, owner of the precision agriculture system hardware, and/or ATP etc. The farmer contracting with the ATP is responsible for ensuring that only the data they own or have permission to use is included in the account with the ATP.
It must be noted that the “Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data” aren’t binding and there are no federal laws directly regulating the storage use or transfer of agricultural data. However, the takeaway is that farmers, landlords, co-ops and agriculture technology providers need to make sure their contract or lease is explicit to who owns farm data. When drafting such contracts, important questions to keep in mind include: (1) Does the contract describe what type of data is being collected; (2) Is control of farm data addressed; and (3) Does the contract state whether the farm data may be accessed, sold or shared with others? Farmers, landlords, co-ops and agriculture technology providers therefore need to take the time to carefully draft and understand contractual language before they sign to ensure farm data ownership issues are clear.
- Luke C. Holst is a registered patent attorney with over twenty years of experience in the agriculture industry as part owner-operator of a family farm in Northwest Iowa. Holst is a former Patent Examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; Law Clerk to the Honorable Mark W. Bennett at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa; and Legislative Counsel to Congressman Steve King at the U.S. Capitol. At McGrath North, Holst works on patent and trademark issues, including intellectual property litigation.