Give Now  »

Indiana Public Media | WFIU - NPR | WTIU - PBS

News Contact IPM News Indiana Public Media News

{ "banners": { "tv" : [ {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592884800000", "endingDate" : "1593143940000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593144000000", "endingDate" : "1593489540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} ], "radio" : [ {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592580600000", "endingDate" : "1592625540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592625600000", "endingDate" : "1592798340000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592798400000", "endingDate" : "1592884740000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592884800000", "endingDate" : "1592971140000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592971200000", "endingDate" : "1593057540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593057600000", "endingDate" : "1593115200000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593115260000", "endingDate" : "1593143940000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593144000000", "endingDate" : "1593489540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} ] }}
{ "lightboxes": { "tv" : [ {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592884800000", "endingDate" : "1592971140000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593144000000", "endingDate" : "1593230340000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} ], "radio" : [ {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592798400000", "endingDate" : "1592884740000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592884800000", "endingDate" : "1592971140000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592971200000", "endingDate" : "1593057540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593057600000", "endingDate" : "1593115200000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593115260000", "endingDate" : "1593143940000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593403200000", "endingDate" : "1593489540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} ] }}
{ "item" : [ {"label" : "t", "mp3" : "as", "startingDate" : "1568692800000", "endingDate" : "1569124800000"} , {"label" : "h", "mp3" : "k", "startingDate" : "1568001600000", "endingDate" : "1568433600000"} ] }

Farmers Navigate Privacy Concerns Of Monsanto's Data Program

A new big data program the seed company Monsanto is launching in Indiana this year is eliciting excitement and concern from farmers.

Excitement about the possibilities to boost yields.

Concerns about the amount of private data it requires them to share.

The computer program, called Fieldscripts, is part of a movement in the agriculture industry toward increased technology.

In addition to Indiana, Monsanto is implementing Fieldscripts in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota before taking the program nationwide.

Other companies including DuPont, Pioneer and John Deere are also developing similar data technologies--all aimed at increasing yields.

Some farmers, like Kip Tom, say this is the wave of the future.

"Before we always thought to produce more we had to buy a bigger tractor or put on more fertilizer," Tom says as he stands among his corn fields in Leesburg, Ind. "This is a different way of farming. We're farming smart. We're protecting the environment. We're being more effective with the resources we have."

More Food With Fewer Resources

Tom points out that in the year 2050, the world's population is expected to hit 9 billion people, and the United Nations estimates in order to meet the increased demand for food, farmers will have to boost production by 60 percent.

Tom, along with many other agriculture experts say part of the solution will be using new big data technology that promises to boost yields without increasing the amount of land or fertilizer farmers have to use.

We're protecting the environment. We're being more effective with the resources we have. This is the wave of the future.

- Kip Tom

That is where programs like Fieldscripts come in.

To use Fieldscripts, farmers like Tom partner with a Monsanto representative. Then, using data tools, satellite mapping technology and iPads, they gather photos, soil samples and previous yield estimates from the various parts of their fields and send that data to Monsanto. The company analyzes the information and sends back recommendations on how farmers can improve their crop yields.

As Tom picks up a handful of soil and then lets it run through his fingers, he explains how Monsanto's recommendations have improved his soil and increased his yields as much as 18 bushels per acre, which would be roughly a 30 percent increase for an average acre of corn.

"One of the things we saw is we were applying too much fertilizer," he says. "If we got it at the right places at the right time in the right amount, there was increased productivity."

Tom has been using Fieldscripts for the past five years. He was part of Monsanto's pilot program to test the product before it went on the market.

But, many farmers who are just now being presented with the option of using the technology say before they adopt Fieldscripts or a similar program, they need to learn more about it.

Top of mind is privacy.

Establishing Privacy Standards In Big Data

At a recent Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation conference focused on big data, farmers are voicing some of their concerns.

"Technology is changing so fast, sometimes we don't keep up with everything," one of the attendees, Brookston farmer John Erickson, says. "I came to this today to see what we should be aware of when we sign that agreement."

Speakers at the conference, who included technology gurus, agriculture company executives, and legal experts, agree that farmers need to make sure they know what they're signing up for.

"There's business data. There could be personal information. What is being collected? Who's collecting it? Who controls the data?" Michelle Kaiser Bray, Faegre Baker Daniels attorney and one of the conferences' speakers, says, listing off some of the questions farmers should be asking. "Is it being shared with just service providers and affiliates or are there folks who are interested in using the data for marketing purposes? These are the kinds of questions farmers are asking and rightfully so."

Bray says additional safeguards are needed as the agriculture industry enters into a new era of data technology, and there are efforts underway to create more oversight.

The Farm Bureau, for example, is considering whether to push for federal legislation establishing data privacy rules in agriculture, and Monsanto recently connected itself to an open data initiative that aims to develop industry standards on how farmers' information can be used.

The Big Data Learning Curve

Back at Tom's farms, Kip Tom goes over his farming data with Kurt Calvert, the Fort Wayne District Sales Manager with the Monsanto seed company Asgrow.

We need to prove our value first and foremost and then prove that we can be trusted with the growers' data.

- Kurt Calvert, Monsanto Rep

Calvert has been working with Tom and other farmers to implement Fieldscripts, and he says it isn't always an easy process getting farmers on board.

"Growers are all over the map," Calvert says. "Some will jump in right away. Others, it takes some convincing and showing them the data, which is how it should be. Honestly, we need to prove ourselves. We need to prove our value first and foremost and then prove that we can be trusted with the growers' data."

That proof can't come quickly enough.

Farmers say they feel the pressure to adopt the newest technology as quickly as possible or run the risk of being left behind.

"It takes some education, but it's something we should all be doing. All industries have had to evolve over time and agriculture is in that right now," Tom says.

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated the Indiana Farm Bureau hosted the data conference. It has been corrected to say the Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation, which is a nonprofit the Indiana Farm Bureau established, hosted the conference. The Indiana Farm Bureau sponsored, but did not host the event.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

Find Us on Facebook