Refresh Working Group (RWG) member Deb Casurella loves solving problems. For over three decades and across multiple sectors, she’s embraced what she describes as “the challenges associated with applying technology to make something better, faster, cheaper, and more efficient.”
True to this philosophy, seven years ago she founded MyAgData® to give farmers a streamlined way to report necessary data to the USDA and crop insurance providers.
For Deb, becoming a member of the RWG and interacting with new people throughout the food system has been an eye-opener, helping her craft new solutions: “I’m encouraged to think differently.” Hearing about new challenges throughout the food system, she asks herself: “What can I do to make a difference?”
To purchase crop insurance from providers approved by the USDA Risk Management Agency, or participate in government programs managed by the USDA Farm Service Agency, farmers must submit acreage reports that help the government understand how much land they’re farming. In the past, gathering and entering this data and preparing the necessary reports was a time-consuming, haphazard process.
By developing software that creates acreage reports while integrating with existing farm management systems, Deb and her team have managed to make a necessary but tedious process much easier. Not only does MyAgData save farmers time, it also ensures that they provide the most accurate information possible.
Beyond MyAgData, Deb sees other areas where growers can benefit from embracing data-driven farming. The area where she’s seen the most value: using a combination of tractor auto-steering and precision agriculture. With those tools, farmers ensure optimal use of the available land, not only in terms of crop-spacing, but also in terms of choosing the right seed, applying fertilizer, and irrigating. That way, farmers can increase their yield without so much guesswork, while also spending less time behind the wheel of a tractor.
Farmers and Data
The unique data challenges of modern agriculture keep things interesting for Deb. “The farmer has all the data, which is so different from anything that I’ve ever seen or experienced before,” she explains. Farmers become the customers needing data interoperability (getting different systems from different companies to “talk” to each other) in a business-to-consumer (B2C) transaction.
But handing over sensitive data to a company whose business involves helping both you and your competitors raises questions not just about interoperability, but also raises issues around data security and transparency.
To that end, MyAgData’s “Data Stewardship” page is direct, succinct, and clear about what it will and won’t do with customer data. By crafting such a straightforward policy, MyAgData is offering farmers the transparency they need so they can be sure their data won’t be used to compromise their livelihoods.
“Everybody realizes ag is sort of the last frontier of data-driven something,” says Deb. Trying to figure out what that something is led her into agriculture, when she was looking for new problems to solve.
However, figuring out the exact role of data in farming also informs debates about how agricultural data should be used, or even how much we know about how it’s used now. In a recent hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) raised an issue about the secondary use of precision agriculture tractor data, asking whether companies might use that data to, for example, market products to farmers.
Of course, as Deb notes above, precision agriculture is a hugely useful technology. But part of what makes it so useful is the specific, granular data it gathers and uses, the more the better. Farmers may well want to reap the benefits of sharing all that data, just as long as they understand exactly how it will be used and how it will be protected.