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Big Data Brings Farmers New Rewards, New Risks

Farmers and ranchers see tremendous benefits with technology, but can't turn a blind eye to the privacy concerns that remain, Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst told the House Agriculture Committee today. Hurst, a board member of the American Farm Bureau Federation, was asked to testify on innovation and its implications for agriculture.

"The big data movement--and the innovative technologies and analytics it yields--could lead to at least as much change in agriculture as the Green Revolution and the adoption of biotechnology did," Hurst said. "Farmers are reporting higher yields, fewer inputs, more efficiency and higher profits thanks to technology."

While farmers are eager to adopt these groundbreaking tools, they are not willing to simply hand over their sensitive business information - nor should they have to. Farmers have the right to know what information is collected, how exactly their data is used and who else has access to it. "It's then up to farmers to determine whether the benefits outweigh the privacy and security risks associated with usage," Hurst said.

These concerns are best resolved through private partnerships where farmers can work directly with businesses to address problems and find workable solutions. "If we rely on the government to make changes, the undue overhead might irreversibly deter innovation," Hurst said.

AFBF has led the way in addressing big data concerns and recently joined with other industry players to produce a set of principles to govern data privacy and security. AFBF and its partners are currently developing tools to help farmers evaluate privacy agreements and data storage options. When farmers and businesses work together, Hurst told the committee, they can "expand their return on investment and unlock the power of ag data."

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