Who owns farmers? airspace?

Who owns your data? Who owns the airspace above your property and who has the right to enter that air space?

The unrelated questions garner a wide range of responses from ?I do!? to ?Who cares who owns my data and my airspace??

Let?s address each question separately. Who owns your data?

Data mining by credit card companies and major retail stores like American Express and Wal-Mart has been going on for decades. They track all purchases and can create a virtual picture of our buying habits, then target advertising efforts to encourage more buying.

Though as innocuous as it seems, data mining is a virtual gold mine (no pun intended) for businesses as we move into the 21st century. Not to mention, our advancing technology in this industry also entails data mining that has potentially uncontrollable consequences.

Agriculture, as it relates to the ownership of data, is no exception in that regard.

As farmers increasingly use high-tech products that collect and store data through detailed software systems that record and analyze field records, including soil maps, yield data, planting records, crop varieties used, fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide application records, they have long assumed the data collected and stored in a cloud-based system is secure and private. Though it may be secure, the data is generally not as private as one might think.

Farmers need to go back to their contract and read the fine print that specifies who owns what and whether that information can be given to third parties.

If one were to ask the question, ?Who owns my data?,? though the answer might be, ?You do,? the service provider will likely add, ?If you do not sign the contract giving us the right to share your data with third parties, some components of your system will not work.?

What is wrong with that? The short answer is, your data is no longer private and you cannot control who has access to it.

The long answer is this: Data by itself is meaningless. However, data that is organized and analyzed has enormous value, not only to farmers, but also to any third party, from a neighbor to an environmental activist, market speculator or grain buyer, not to mention an economic global powerhouse like Wal-Mart that can use your own data against you in the marketplace as it seeks to define ?environmental sustainability? in agriculture.

Two weeks ago, led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, a consortium of organizations, including grass-roots commodity groups like the National Association of Wheat Growers, plus farm equipment manufacturers and biotechnology companies, met in Kansas City to discuss ?big data? as it relates to agriculture.

At this first meeting of its kind, we agreed there is a need to come to terms with data ownership, that the farmer?s rights to the data originating from the farm is paramount, and that there is a need to create a uniform protocol for the control and dispensation of that data.

This group plans to hold more meetings in the future to further define that protocol.

On to the second question: Who owns the airspace above your property and who has the right to enter that airspace?

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, is a growing technology that is coming of age. These small, remotely piloted vehicles may soon become a favorite tool, not only in agriculture as it enables farmers to scout fields to monitor for insects and fertility problems, but also for activists as they seek to gather information for litigation against farmers.

Plus, it may increasingly become a tool of choice for those seeking to snoop on anybody for any reason, potentially violating the right to privacy, not to mention violating property rights.

Currently, according to FAA regulations, any small, unmanned aerial vehicle that flies under 400 feet and is used for recreational purposes is not regulated. A recent court ruling maintains that guideline, thanks in part to the effort of the FAA to expand their control by separating recreational use from commercial use of UAVs.

In the future, one can expect a legislative initiative that more clearly defines use of low altitude airspace by UAVs.