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Co-op and Custom Applicators: Are You Addressing Farm Data in Your Contracts?

Farmers will call up their local co-ops this year to help them fertilize and spray their fields. These sprayers-for-hire will be recording what they do, but what happens to that data after that point? Does the co-op have an obligation to provide that data to the farmer? Does the co-op own the data generated on a farmer’s field? These questions need to be answered when farmers engage third parties to perform precision ag activities on their fields.

Here are some items co-ops and custom applicators should include in their contracts with farmers to address farm data:

  1. Ownership: Co-ops should explain which party owns the data generated by custom farming activities. Either the farmer or the co-op could be considered the data owner, depending on contractual preferences. The important thing is that the contract removes any uncertainty as to who owns the data after the work is done.
  2. Transfer: A custom applicator contract should require that farm data be transferred or made accessible to the farmer after the work is complete.
  3. Accuracy: A good, farmer-friendly contract will require the co-op to warrant that their equipment has been properly calibrated before each use, and that data generated by their operations is accurate. Without assurances that the data is accurate, sorting out ownership is pointless.
  4. Privacy Protection: A co-op should promise to take reasonable steps to safeguard information gathered during custom farming operations.
  5. Retention: A contract should spell out exactly how long the co-op will maintain the farm data before it is deleted. There is no magic formula here, but I suggest the time-frame be at least one growing season to allow farmers plenty of time to remove data before it is deleted.

The contract between farmers and their cooperatives is often built on a strong personal relationship instead of a paper contract. That was fine in years past, but the emergence of farm data necessitates a change in practice. Co-ops and custom applicators need to address farm data ownership in their contracts with farmers.

Read more at Janzen Ag Law Blog by Todd Janzen, Partner, Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP.

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