Published on Data Blog

How can policy allay farmers' concerns around agricultural data access, sharing, and use?

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Technology and people concept : Young indian farmer using laptop at field
Technology and people concept: Young Indian farmer using his laptop at a field Photo: PRASANNAPIX/

Some call it precision agriculture, others digital agriculture or Agriculture 4.0. In the end, it’s about new digital technologies that make it possible to produce an ever-greater amount of data about farms and use those data to improve food production, delivery, and sales to consumers.

Many stand to gain from agriculture’s ‘datafication.’ The insights generated from agricultural data can help farms run more efficiently and sustainably.  Those same datasets can be used by input (seeds, fertilizers, etc.) and service providers to develop new products and services for agro-food systems. Governments are also interested in designing and implementing data-driven policies for the sector.

Realizing these benefits requires and enabling data governance for the sector. Yet, some farmers are increasingly concerned they can’t control how data about their farm, which they consider personal or commercially sensitive, is shared, used, and reused by others.

They are also concerned that they can’t switch and choose between digital service providers without being penalized. For example, contracts may lock farmers into a specific service provider by preventing them from sharing historical data with other providers. Or contracts may also limit their choice of who can repair their machinery. These issues are referred to as the right to data portability and the right to repair.

These concerns may reduce farmers’ willingness to adopt digital solutions and enter into data-sharing arrangements. Experts consider the potential of data generated on farms as untapped because of a fragmented and unclear policy environment governing the use of data—and agricultural data in particular. 

An african man using the tablet in the forest. wireless or future technology concept.
Photo: CameraCraft/

Our recent OECD policy paper, Issues Around Data Governance in the Digital Transformation of Agriculture: The Farmers’ Perspective, explores how existing data governance, as well as emerging voluntary initiatives, address these and other concerns held by farmers about who can access, share and use agricultural data.

What emerges is that a range of cross-sectoral legal frameworks currently shape access, sharing, and use of agricultural data. That includes contract and competition law, personal data protection and privacy laws, and intellectual property rights. But the way these frameworks interact and determine the collection and use of agricultural data can present challenges or uncertainties.

Agricultural data are collected on private farms but processed with the private third-party software of machinery and digital service providers. Most often, it’s the contracts between farmers and these providers that set the conditions around the sharing, use, and re-use of data collected on and about farms. For example, these contracts include provisions on whom the service provider can share the data with, or what occurs to the data when the contract comes to an end. Contracts, however, may be offered to farmers on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis, and terms of use for data may be buried within long and complex legal documents.

In addition, privacy and data protection frameworks could sometimes apply to agricultural data. For example, farmers could benefit from the right to access that data, to ask for the data to be deleted, or to know precisely how service providers will use that data. But it’s not clear if—and what—agricultural data is personal, or even if privacy rules are appropriate for agricultural data.

We also looked at some sectoral initiatives that have recently emerged in response to these challenges and uncertainties. In some countries, voluntary codes of conduct have been developed by industry bodies, sometimes in collaboration with governments. These provide a benchmark for good practices in agricultural data governance, often focused on consent-based and transparent data processing, and secure data storage practices. But while these codes of conduct can help to change attitudes and behaviors around agricultural data, their voluntary nature means that there is limited evidence of their impact.

New models have also emerged to facilitate access to agricultural data. In some cases, farm data co-operatives—for example, the Ag Data Coalition (ADC), Grower Information Services Cooperative (GISC), and JoinData—pool farmers’ data and give farmers a say in how the pooled data are managed. This allows cooperative members to benefit from ‘big data’ insights while retaining control of their data when dealing with third parties. Data co-operatives may offer a trusted way for data that are valuable for public research and innovation to be collected and accessed. However, they still face a number of challenges—for example, managing confidentiality and finding technical solutions to ensure data interoperability.

A young black African businesswoman in a local market browsing online using smartphone checking reading news online
A young African businesswoman in a local market browsing online using smartphone checking reading news online 
Photo: abugrafia/

Despite these developments, access, sharing, and use of agricultural data will ultimately be governed by economy-wide regulatory frameworks—indeed, many of the issues experienced by farmers are not unique to agriculture. In this sense, agricultural policy-makers will need to ensure that the sector has a seat at the table in wider government discussions around data governance frameworks and that these broader frameworks are applied in a way that responds to the needs of all stakeholders in agricultural data, including farmers. As a first step, agricultural data codes of conduct could offer useful insights to policymakers about the needs and priorities of farmers and perceived governance gaps around the treatment of agricultural data.

Agricultural policymakers can also improve communication on how existing regulatory frameworks apply to agricultural data, empower farmers in their decision on whether and how to manage data collection on and about their farms, and build greater confidence in the use of digital solutions in the sector. This could help to reduce uncertainty, avoid unnecessary mistrust in the digital ecosystem, and allow all stakeholders to leverage the potential of agricultural data for growth and innovation in agriculture.


The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the OECD or of the governments of its member countries

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