Agribusiness Ponders Precision vs. Privacy

Not a day goes by without Edward Snowden saga updates. Will the U.S. agree to a clemency deal? Should I be worried that my phone calls are being tracked?

But even as we process through the information brought to light by the former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower, new companies aim to gather as much information as they can and share it via the cloud.

Will farmers embrace GPS tracking?
Will farmers embrace GPS tracking?

In this case, the information is related to soil quality, seed variables and weather conditions on farms across the Midwest. Featured recently in an NPR article are services developed by “big agribusiness” (like Monsanto and John Deere) allowing farmers to opt into programs that mine data “for tips that will put more money in farmers’ pockets.” To do this, Monsanto and John Deere have partnered with tech firms to create GPS devices that, during harvest time for example, travel with combines to record how much grain is being collected across different areas of the field. They argue that if farmers have more accurate information about their land, they’ll be able to increase yields. Not everyone agrees, though.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFMF) is concerned about how the information gathered through the GPS devices will be shared and how it will then be used. While some farmers are not opposed to sharing information about their harvests and farm conditions, others are a bit wary that when data moves into the cloud, anyone, anywhere, can access it. It also brings up security of information concerns as well as concerns about sharing such seemingly mundane information as seed types and field yields with groups who could manipulate it for their own benefit.

In this world of constant technology development and upgrades, it’s hard to guard against information of any type falling into the wrong hands. But is the potential technological and economic benefit, at least to farmers, worth the risk? Only time will tell.

Katelin Santhin
M.A. Emerging Media Graduate Student
Loyola University Maryland
This entry was posted in GPS, Privacy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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