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Montana farmers want ag data protection

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Mark Moran

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(Big Sky Connection) Montana farmers have testified before a panel of state lawmakers asking them to protect agricultural data that is collected by precision farming technology - and stored electronically, "in the cloud."

They're looking for changes in how that information is accessed.

At a recent state Economic Affairs Committee meeting, Montana Farmer's Union President Walter Schweitzer said with the increased use of precision ag tools and a huge uptick in data collected and stored remotely, farmers' information needs greater protections.

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"We read every day that there's data being hacked," said Schweitzer. "The military has gotten hacked. Banks have been hacked. Hospitals are being hacked."

Schweitzer argued that hackers could use the information to affect prices or direct-market products to farmers based on the information they collect about crops and ag operations.

He said based on farmers' input, the Economic Affairs Committee will work with lawmakers to consider changes during next year's legislative session.

Rather than tighten access, Schweitzer said he thinks ag data should be made more transparent and publicly available.

He explained that this would help avoid the potential for market manipulation by commodities brokers or large countries, such as China, that purchase the crops.

"Let's say the wheat crop, during harvest, it looks like it's going to be lower yields than average or anticipated," said Schweitzer. "So then, China would come in, purchase all the wheat they needed before the USDA announces that, and the price goes up."

Schweitzer said 10 percent of a farmer's data, which is uploaded in real time during harvest and stored in the cloud, is all it takes for hackers to know a producer's entire harvest.