(The Center Square) - Farm data is not just record-keeping. It is confidential information that can be likened to trade secrets.
Terry Griffin, a farm data consultant and professor of spatial economics at Kansas State University, told Illinois Radio Network that farming methods and crop yields can be used by competitors and vendors.
Best management practices on the farm include cybersecurity to keep farm data confidential, Griffin said.
"If a data pirate gets a farm's hard drives, the farmer would pay a lot to get them back. Cybersecurity keeps farm data in the farmer's control," he said.
Griffin advises farmers to think about who has access to their farm information systems and how their farm data could be useful to competitors. His list of potential data pirates includes employees, family members, landowners, neighboring farmers, ag retail service providers, the U.S. government and government entities, trade groups and environmental extremists.
"It helps to think, OK, the data may not be of use to me right now, but it has value because it is not in someone else's hands," Griffin said.
Data impacts a farmer's ability to negotiate. For that reason alone, farmers need to pay attention to cybersecurity.
In the corn belt, where there is fierce competition for fields to rent, information on a competitor's farm operation can give one party an edge.
"The last person farmers want to get access to data from their fields is a competing farmer," Griffin said.
Some farmers tell Griffin that they do not want ag retailers and input manufacturers to know the specifics of their operations.
"They feel that they will be at a disadvantage if vendors know too much about their individual farm operation," he said.
Data is not a tangible asset like a bushel of corn, but its value becomes more critical every year, as technology and precision agriculture advance. Information disclosure and outright theft are hazards for farm operations.
Farmers should have quality computers with reliable back-up systems and safe and reliable software, Griffin said.
On the Kansas State University website Ag Manager Info, Griffin and his colleagues recommend best management practices for farm data management.
The simple fix of changing the farm computer system password quarterly is a basic step, Griffin said.
"A lot of data that is being collected by farm software does not have the level of security password protection that most of us have with email," Griffin said. "I would encourage people to think about that."
Griffin recommends having farm employees sign non-disclosure agreements before they are given access to farm data.
"Change the password immediately if an employee leaves to go to work for an ag retailer or another farm operation," he said. "It's common sense.".
Griffin writes articles and gives talks on best management practices for farm cybersecurity. His handle on social media is @spaceplowboy, a play on Griffin's expertise in spatial statistics and his love of studying outer space.