Imagine that you are a livestock farmer who has sold lambs that will be consigned to two different processors, and you are trialing two different ram sources in your prime lamb enterprise. Being able to identify the lambs from each ram source and compare the carcase characteristics of each bloodline group is going to be a key step in identifying which bloodline will best increase enterprise productivity. Imagine at the same time you also operate a cropping enterprise, and have managed to accumulate ten years of yield map data from your current harvester, which you use to apply variable rate crop planting and fertiliser programs that improve cropping productivity. You are now considering the purchase of a competing brand of harvester which promises better performance, but has incompatible yield map formats for your current planting equipment, and you potentially face the loss of the benefits arising from all the accumulated data if you switch.
In both these situations, the importance of data as a tool to improve farm productivity is very obvious.
A robust and objective comparison of lamb carcase data (irrespective of which processor they were consigned to) can provide vital information about the relative performance of different bloodlines, and allow a lamb producer to accurately identify which ram source is best for the lamb enterprise. To be able to conduct such a comparison, it is important that both lamb processors make available detailed carcase data, and ideally make it available in similar formats for ease of analysis.
Similarly, the yield data produced by a harvester is a critical piece of data that enables farmers to identify parts of a paddock which will respond to additional fertiliser, and parts that will not. Using multiple years of yield map data (rather than a single year) has been shown to improve the benefits that can be obtained using variable rate cropping systems, with up to 10% increases in productivity achieved by some farmers. This also highlights that the productivity benefits that are able to be obtained from crop data increase as more years of accumulated data are available.
Both these cases also provide very obvious examples of the role of data in competition in the agriculture sector. If only one lamb processor is prepared to make detailed carcase data available to lamb producers, then those lamb producers for whom objective carcase data is important will have little choice about which processor they consign their lambs to, and face less competition for their lambs. Similarly, proprietary harvester data formats can mean that it becomes increasingly problematic for a crop farmer to switch to a different harvester brand, if they use that data to enhance crop productivity.
The increasing importance of data as a tool to enhance productivity, and the potential for data to be used in ways that limit competition has been recognised in the recommendations arising from a recent inquiry conducted by the Productivity Commission, which were released by the Australian Government recently.
A key recommendation arising from that inquiry is that legislation should be implemented to create a “Comprehensive Right” for consumers (and small businesses) to access and use their data, and to have control over its use. This is spelled out in Recommendation 5.1 (noting that the term ‘Consumer’ also refers to data associated with Small to Medium Enterprises, which encompasses most farm businesses).
Consumer data must be provided on request to consumers or directly to a designated third party in order to exercise a number of rights, summarised as the Comprehensive Right to access and use digital data. This Comprehensive Right would enable consumers to:
• share in perpetuity joint access to and use of their consumer data with the data holder
• receive a copy of their consumer data
• request edits or corrections to it for reasons of accuracy
• be informed of the trade or other disclosure of consumer data to third parties
• direct data holders to transfer data in machine-readable form, either to the individual or to a nominated third party.
Where a transfer is requested outside of an industry (such as from a medical service provider to an insurance provider) and the agreed scope of consumer data is different in the source industry and the destination industry, the scope that applies would be that of the data sender.