Who should own farm data?

December 4, 2014, 12:15 PM UTC
farm data, big data
Illustration By: L-DOPA

The most important data point in farming used to be the weather. Today, precision agriculture—the use of sensors and software on field equipment—gives farmers exacting intelligence about their crops during harvest. The information is clearly valuable. But who owns it: the farmer, the landowner, the software maker, the combine manufacturer? In November a group of major industry players—from the National Corn Growers Association to Deere, Dow, DuPont, and Monsanto—established principles to clarify the issue. Farmers shall own and control the data, they agreed, and tech providers must receive explicit consent to collect, access, and use it. The accord suggests that data issues have been a sticking point for farmers eyeing an equipment upgrade—and demonstrates that there’s economic value in the numbers. On the farm, not every cash cow goes “moo.”

This story is from the December 22, 2014 issue of Fortune.