Open data a necessary resource for farmers

data

Secretary of the USDA, Thomas Vilsack, joined Brady Deaton, executive director of Deaton Institute and former chancellor of the University of Missouri, and Gavin Starks, CEO of the Open Data Institute, to talk about the importance of open data in agriculture. (Photo by Alexa Ahern

By Jieyang Zheng and Alexa Ahern

DES MOINES, Iowa — Data gives farmers control and knowledge and open data can broaden access to new technologies and precise market information. But challenges arise when private sector groups conceal data, make it difficult to use, keep it closed off from the public or have it copyrighted.

Secretary of the USDA, Thomas Vilsack, joined Brady Deaton, executive director of Deaton Institute and former chancellor of the University of Missouri, and Gavin Starks, CEO of the Open Data Institute, for a discussion of the value of open data Thursday at the World Food Prize at the Downtown Marriott Hotel.

As farmers adopt new technology in the 21st century, access to and analysis of open data will be a useful tool.

Social media proves there is a demand for open data, Vilsack said, but it can be a scary albeit liberating process for those holding the data. One challenge to open data is copyright policy.

Copyright does protect the financial contribution of developers but at the same time should make the data more open to the public so that innovation can be driven forward, Vilsack said. Farmers are reluctant to take the data without knowing who owns it and whether it is personalized, meaning its not usable for a broad network of farmers, or biased, he said.

In addition to caution on personalized and biased data, Deaton said data should be contextualized so that it is meaningful.

“It’s important to make data not just accessible but usable,” he said.

Sparks added the importance of maintaining ethical practices in data collection and organization.

Open, usable data can better inform farmers about crop prices and technologies to improve their productivity. And it provides consumers with more precise information about safety and nutrition.

“Open data is a powerful tool, but it’s not the solution to feeding 9 billion people by 2050,” Deaton said.

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