Collecting data provides little value to farmers unless that data can be turned into meaningful insights. That was the conclusion of a panel discussion organised by Map of Ag at the Cereals event 8th & 9th June, 2022.
A range of dynamics were coming into the play, the panel concluded, which meant farmers were going to be increasingly asked for access to their data. But it was important those farmers could understand why sharing their data was necessary, and what benefit it would bring them.
Pressure from the agrifood chain to meet sustainability targets was one example and Map of Ag’s Head of Sustainability Hugh Martineau explained there was now growing evidence that retailers and processors were not only wanting data to measure “scope 3” emissions of their farmers suppliers for their own purposes, but also wanting to provide those farmers with dashboards and advice to help them improve on-farm performance and a lower carbon footprint.
In the banking sector, Oxbury’s Tim Coates explained there was a need for lenders to understand the sustainability credentials of their loan book, and that his bank was looking at offering preferential or bespoke deals to borrowers who could evidence good sustainability credentials.
The panel, which also included Cambridgeshire farmer Tom Martin and the NFU’s Director of Policy Andrew Clark, acknowledged there was a lot of noise in the sector around data, and carbon trading in particular, and that there was an opportunity for the public and private sector to come together to land on a more coherent set of metrics around which the industry could coalesce.
It was also important there was agreement on the way in which data is shared, Mr Clark added. “We need a code of practice that applies to both public and private providers. It’s our members’ data that’s being collected and it’s a bit of a wild west out there.”
Developing a data strategy for the farm was something Mr Martin was starting to focus on. “We don’t have a strategy but we are developing one. We are trying to get as much value as possible from the data and looking to the future at what we are going to have to baseline that might become increasingly relevant, without wasting money.”
Actionable data had the potential to influence change on the farm, Mr Clark said. “Data will have a role in triggering behaviour. But if you have a wall of data there’s little value unless a farmer can understand where they can change a decision because of what the data’s telling them.”
Data could allow you to experiment, Mr Coates added. “Change one variable and see what the outcome is. That’s data. That’s actionable insight.”
Tying the right data together was important, Mr Martineau explained. “For example, it could provide meaningful insight such as nitrogen use efficiency and help growers identify in-field areas that could be taken out of production.”
Security of data and trust in how and where was being used was also a theme. “There have been historical examples of sharing data where farmers have felt penalised for doing so,” Mr Coates said. “Fundamentally it is the farmer’s data. It’s important data is used in partnership with the farmer.”
In terms of developing a data strategy, Mr Martineau concluded it was important to prioritise the data to collect and make sure that it was meaningful. Looking further ahead he said there needed to be more consistency across the industry regarding key performance indicators, and more support to get farmers on the journey to creating a data strategy for their farm.
Map of Ag’s Pure Farming data integration platform is helping to bring useful data together and allowing farmers to control where and how their data is used. You can find out more at purefarming.com
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