If it’s new, it’s better, right? Right? Everything new and
advanced is automatically better than whatever came before it.
I’d add a resounding “No!”
We used to have a joke in the daily newspaper newsroom.
Every time it was announced that our computers were going to be improved,
updated or upgraded, it always came with the encouraging phrase that “It’ll make
your job quicker and easier.”
We soon found out that it usually was the opposite of one,
if not both, of those qualities.
We get thumped over the head if we don’t cheerfully go along
with every single “change” announcement. We get told we’re afraid, we’re
old-fashioned, we’re too comfortable, we’re stuck in the past.
The list goes on and on of what we are if we don’t run
toward each new advancement with hair billowing in the breeze and arms
If we say, “well, it might be good, but we’d like to know
more — just tell us some more about this change, show us how it works,” we tend
to get the same treatment.
Farmers are starting to think about change.
Specifically, they’re starting to think about how a headlong
rush to document, record and transmit every single piece of data regarding their
farming operation, down to how fast or slow their tractors and planters and
combines are moving to the shape, location and size of their farm fields, may
help — or harm — them, their families and their farms.
This week, we saw the announcement of OOADA, the Open Ag
Data Alliance, a collaboration of seed companies, equipment manufacturers and
other agribusinesses. OOADA will develop tools for open data transfer for
farmers across platforms.
But groups that represent farmers have questions about data.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, at its annual meeting
in January, talked extensively about “Big Data” and its consequences.
Who owns a farmer’s data? What about privacy? What about the
possible use of that data, including planting and yield information as combines
are moving, being used by companies or by individuals to get a leg up on the
markets — or locally, on cash renting land?
Who might be making money off of a farmer’s private data —
besides the farmer himself? How might that data be acquired and used by others,
environmental groups, for instance, or the government itself?
Those are some of the questions that federation and its
members have about their information.
We rush to embrace the new, best, biggest toy — the most
advanced versions of everything tech for tractors, combines, planters, phones,
computers, gaming systems, even coffeemakers and dishwashers.
There’s no doubt that technology that can make every aspect
of farming specific to a single field has benefits. The benefits are possible in
every area of concern to farmers, management, profitability, sustainability,
But it’s not heresy to say it has to be used with caution
and care. It has to be completely understood and some big questions have to be
answered so that farmers not only have all the technology tools to use, but also
the understanding and knowledge to properly and safely use them.
We already have an example of what can happen when big data
gets misused. Fifteen months ago, in January 2013, U.S. livestock producers
learned that thousands of lines of personal data had been released by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency to four activist groups that are considered by
some to be anti-agriculture.
The data that was released went a lot deeper than just
That seems to be the wakeup moment for the entire ag
industry, when everyone paused for a second in the race to get the new, biggest,
best, most-expensive data and tech farm “toy” on the playground.
Farmers and agribusiness realized that all the data tools
are going to generate, well, data. Information, information about every single
step they take while they’re farming their acres.
The EPA livestock data spills showed us that there might be
other eyes watching. It showed us that along with every technology update,
advance and gadget, there needs to be some education.
Those who are promoting the technology and selling it need
to also be following through, need to make sure that once the technology is in
place, farmers need to understand how to use it. If we understand how to use the
technology, there is less fear of it, and we can make better use of it and use
the technology to its full potential.
In addition, we can’t just abandon every piece of data,
every program, every “old” thing just because it’s, well, old. Things work well
for a reason, and if they’re working well for us, we need to speak up and say
We can’t be afraid to stick with older ways of doing things
just because it’s not the newest toy on the playground. We must speak up and
talk about what works and what doesn’t, whether it’s new or old. Not everything
new is automatically better, not everything old is automatically bad and vice
Nobody wants to go back to the days of farming with the
tractors we now consider “antique” or “vintage.” We can’t. We have to focus on
growing more food with fewer resources across the board, less land, less water,
But we have to take a deep breath and do a cool-down lap and
collect our thoughts, find the best pace for each individual person and farm
when it comes to adopting new technology — and the data consequences that go
with that technology.
We are in an age where technology changes rapidly. We are
almost shamed into thinking if we don’t automatically adopt and embrace every
single update, we’re outdated, old and scared, afraid of change.
That’s not the case at all. Technology, whether old or new,
only works when it works for us, when we “own” it, literally and figuratively,
when we make it ours.