Everyone into the (data) Pool


There’s a quiet revolution going on in agriculture, much of it riding under the label of “precision agriculture.” What this means is that farms are finding they can use data both to increase their productivity and their crop yields.

To provide just one vivid example, unmanned tractors now routinely plow fields, guided by GPS and information on how deep to dig in which sections of the field for optimal results. Seeds are being planted variably as well. Instead of just dumping seeds in the earth and hoping for the best, precision machinery, guided by soil data, now determines what seeds are planted and where, almost on an inch-by-inch basis.

It’s a big opportunity, with big dollars attached to it, and everyone is jockeying to collect and own this data. The seed companies want to own it. The farm equipment companies want to own it. Even farm supply stores – the folks who sell farmers their fertilizer and other supplies want to own it. In fact, everyone is clamoring to own the data, except perhaps the farmer.

Why not? Because a farmer’s own soil data is effectively a sample size of one. Not too valuable. Value is added when it  is aggregated to data from other farmers to find patterns and establish benchmarks. It’s a natural opportunity for someone to enable farmers to share their data to mutual benefit. This is a content model we call the “closed data pool,” where a carefully selected group agrees to contribute its data, and pay to receive back the insights gleaned from the aggregated dataset.

One great example of this model is Farmers Business Network. Farmers pool their data and pay $500 per year to access the benchmarks and insights it generates. Farmers Business Network is staffed with data scientists to make sense of the data. Very importantly, Farmers Business Network is a neutral player: it doesn’t sell seeds or tractors. Its business model is transparent, and farmers can get data insights without being tied to a particular vendor. Farmers Business Network makes its case brilliantly in its promotional video, which is well worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IS4KIrcRMMU

Market neutrality and a high level of trust are essential to building content using the closed data pool model. But it’s a powerful, sticky model that benefits every player involved. Many data publishers and other media companies are well positioned to create products using this model because they already have the neutral market position and market trust. Closed data pools are worth a closer look. Google certainly agrees: it just invested $15 million into Farmers Business Network.