How will large scale data capture at the farm level change the position of farmers in the food chain?
Dr. Jacquelyn Boerman is a researcher and animal scientist who works with commercial farms on "how to best integrate and get value out of data for decision making." She points out that there will be new people and companies that enter into the food supply chain. "Now we have the farmer and we have several steps before we get to the consumer. What's going to happen is that we are going to get people who are interested in data extraction, data analytics, data integration, etc., that are entering into that food chain. So in some ways it could empower the farmer, who has more value because of the data they possess. But it also creates more links between the farmer and the ultimate consumer."

In some ways it could empower the farmer
So what can a farmer do to profit from digitisation? Boerman brings up data ownership, explaining that "the farmer needs to understand the value of the data that is generated from their own farm, and then partner with people that are going to enhance that value even more." She also thinks that ultimately, consumers have a role to play in increasing value for the farmer, because their demands are what drive innovation in production. For example, if there is an environmental benefit or advantage that a farmer's product has over competitors and data can show it, the product could be certified organic or fair trade, and eco-conscious consumers will be more likely to purchase that product.

JoinData and permission to use
Sener Celik joins in on the conversation about data ownership, mentioning the concept of 'permission to use'. Celik is the director of JoinData, "a trusted data cooperative created by farmers via the cooperatives of the farmers." JoinData was created by large cooperatives in the Netherlands, and its mission is twofold. It wants to make sure that data suppliers can connect easily and reliably with JoinData, and also that consumers of data have a one-stop shop for information they need to innovate. Within JoinData, different players have different permissions on how they can use the data that is created and collected. "If you have a new sensor and you've spent millions of dollars creating that sensor (which enables farmers to get new data sources), the sensor supplier has some sort of ownership, or permission to use, if you will. On our platform, farmers and sensor suppliers can share that data with third parties that also are able to build new data analytics tools to enhance real time decision making for farmers. So the innovation flows back to the farmer." Celik also emphasises that consent of the farmer is key.

Data is not something that is scary and far away
Though JoinData started in the Netherlands, it has now expanded to other countries in the region, following its customers needs and expansions. In terms of competition, Celik thinks that JoinData doesn't have very much of it in other countries. This is because there are many examples of farmers who try to build data cooperatives themselves, but they often lack the technology and funding to build such a robust platform. Importantly, actors who have positions in data distribution (e.g. companies that build software for farmers) are not competitors, since JoinData "doesn't touch data." This is key to maintaining the credibility and trust that farmers have in the cooperative. "I haven't seen a platform yet that does not do the analytics, but just the distribution and consent of the farmer in a cooperative and trusted manner like we do. Because my goal is to enable farmers to distribute their data with third parties and get innovation back."

Lely: the European dairy John Deere?
Veerman then turns to Gijs Scholman, Chief Commercial Officer at Lely, a “European version of John Deere, just with dairy.” When asked how the data capture that Lely does at farm level impacts the position of farmers in the whole food chain, Scholman explains “we believe that data should be extracted from the equipment sold to farmers. Then we make it accessible, process it, and offer the farmer the insights from this data. Further, Lely believes that the farmer will benefit from connecting other farmer partners to the network that we provide to make sure that the farmer can combine insights, learning, and decisions, based on different data sources. So we see it as our task to convert the data into advice using algorithms, and it’s up to the farmer whether they follow it or not. But we only do this when the farmer opens the supply of data from his farm to our platform, and every individual farmer has the option to ‘check that box’ of sharing or not. In that sense, he always stays in control of what he shares, and with whom.” Scholman continually stresses that the farmer is always in control and it is always to their own advantage to share data generated on the farm, but it is always their choice whether or not to follow advice generated by Lely's analysis.

Lely believes that farmers should extract value from their data
Scholman shares an example of this scenario in the context of ketosis, which is a disease often seen in dairy farming. Based on 4 different key performance indicators (KPI's), data is collected which allows for Lely to advise farmers on which cows are most likely to get ketosis. This allows farmers to address these cows in a preventive way to make sure they don’t get sick. This is done based on data points such as milk production, readings of fat and protein in the milk, the behaviour with which cows visit the milking bots, etc. Through this advice, farmers have been able to reduce the incidence of clinical ketosis by between 30 and 40%. “We are really helping the farmer by combining and processing data with an algorithm to provide real time insight and advice.” Scholman also points out that this is to the sole benefit of the farmer, as Lely doesn’t get paid based on the percentage of cows on the farm with ketosis. Boerman commends the use of 4 different KPI's in the process of giving farmers actionable advice about which cows could develop ketosis. "That's what producers are looking for. They're looking for decision support tools, not just raw data. And that goes back to the fact that most dairy farmers aren't comfortable with manipulating and extracting information from raw data. So we do need partnerships between companies and dairy farmers to get the most value for both."

They're looking for decision support tools, not just raw data
When comparing Lely and John Deere, Boerman thinks that while the two have many similarities, they operate on very different scopes. "John Deere is a really large company in the US, and Lely is a smaller company, at least in terms of how many farms its touching and how much data they are able to have access to now. And John Deere was also able to start very early on, before there was even very much knowledge in the value of data being produced on these farms. Based on when they came into market, there's a different perception of the two." Scholman adds that while John Deere does indeed generate a lot of value for their customers, a problem for the farmer with the system is they do not cover all fields in the farm, metaphorically speaking. "For example, in dairy farming, they are only outside the barn. But for a dairy farmer, the happenings inside the barn are critical to the business and need to be monitored as well. As long as you're not a full range partner of a farmer, you need to be open to cooperation. Farmers want data from both inside and outside the barn that is combined and optimised." Celik echoes his sentiments, pointing out that farmers want a range of different services that can be managed easily in an integrated system.

The common view of data is that it will enslave the farmer, but from where we are now, this is not the case
Digitisation: an opportunity or threat for farmers?
All three guests agree that digitisation can be an opportunity for farmers and not a threat, provided that there is transparency, collaboration, and trust between partners. But providing farmers and their partners with real value and insight is in the best interest of the companies too, Scholman explains. "We are paid by the farmers, so of course we listen to them. We try to create benefits and opportunities for them, because they pay us. If we close ourselves off to other partners of the farmer, they will never go with us in the long term. So to stay viable and relevant, we need to play together."

Trust and respect are the key elements in creating an ecosystem in which parties are willing to share data
Regulations, education, and data protection
Veerman asks the guests if markets can self-regulate and be fair to everyone in the game, or if there would be a role for governments to play in overseeing protections. Celik thinks that protections and regulation is different here than it is in the financial sector, for example, because the basis of farmers sharing data with companies like JoinData is trust. "When we started, we said we would handle all data as personal data. Sensitive data. Because the business address of a farmer is also his personal address. We do this because of privacy and compliance regulations, but mostly because we respect the farmers. It's about trust. If I share data with you, I cannot un-share it, so the genie is out of the bottle, if you will. Trust and respect are the key elements in creating an ecosystem in which parties are willing to share data." Companies with robust data strategies as well as these strong customer relationships are the only ones which will survive, so regulation may not always be necessary. Celik believes that what is probably more needed is education about what data is being extracted and by whom. He explains that he has a lot of conversations with farmers who are wary of sharing data but are often unknowingly sharing data with third parties.

Right now, education needs more attention than regulation
Boerman agrees with Celik, pointing out that regulation isn't necessarily needed to protect companies from each other either, since there isn't really a company that has a monopoly in the dairy farming industry. "There's not one company that has a really strong competitive advantage that would require regulation to make it fair for other companies to enter the market. So in that sense, companies that don't respect the ownership and rights of the farmer won't stay in business, because it's customer driven. "

Do you think the emergence of new forms of data and digitisation will affect farmers positively, and who do you think owns processed and upcycled data? Does the animal husbandry sector need to set safeguards for data-driven systems and their players?

Jacquelyn Boerman is an Assistant Professor of Animal Sciences at Purdue University in Indiana. She grew up on a dairy farm. Boerman now does research focusing on nutrition and health management of cattle on dairy farms, and has recently began projects related to data collected and produced on these farms in the United states. She has earned degrees at Michigan State University, UC Urbana-Champaign, and Cornell University and previously also worked as a dairy specialist in the Midwest.

Sener Celik is the director of JoinData. He previously spent 19 years at Rabobank, in roles ranging from management consultant to the Vice President of Client and Market Data.

Gijs Scholman is the Chief Commercial Officer at Lely. He studied Animal Science at Wageningen Agricultural University (just a stone's throw away from Foodlog's home!) and then earned an MBA. He currently also is a member of the Board of Directors of the CEMA European Agricultural Machinery Association.

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