November 21, 2022 | Anup Patel

Data Privacy in Agriculture is About to Get Serious

Taking a proactive approach to data privacy compliance can provide a competitive advantage and increased profitability for agriculture companies. 

The recent changes to Canada’s new Digital Charter should come as no surprise.  We’ve always known that when it came to digital privacy, greater corporate compliance (as seen in the EU’s GDPR) was inevitable – and should eventually be expected of all companies, globally.

What Do These Changes Mean For Agriculture?

Data privacy and security is one of the biggest concerns amongst producers (i.e. farmers) these days, and for good reason(s). 

Companies are attempting to digitally capture all aspects of their operations, from their purchasing behaviour to on-farm activities, and up until now have been able to do so freely, with little regulation. As a result, there is a lack of understanding and transparency and this has most producers concerned, as they are unaware of what’s happening with their information and how it’s being used.

This new legislation could transfer more control over to Canadian producers, where they could request deletion/transfer of their personal information from company databases – requests that would require a level of data management that most companies are currently incapable of handling. s As it currently stands, many of the specific rules and definitions are still to be determined, so for now we can only speculate on the implications. 

One thing we can be certain of though is that this new legislation and future legislation across all jurisdictions will require companies to be more diligent and aware of their data procedures and policies.

We also know that agriculture companies plan on using more data (not less) in the future, and integrating compliance in the early stages of developing a data program is almost always easier and less costly than having to embed privacy and security on top of a mature data system. 

Most companies however will still opt for a reactive approach, waiting and seeing before taking action – and when they do, it’s typically a generic, “check the box” strategy to compliance.

Don’t be one of these companies. View these new legislations as an opportunity, not a barrier. 

Compliance isn’t just about avoiding hefty fines. Taking a proactive approach and prioritizing it within your organization can provide not only a competitive advantage but lead to higher profitability. 

Gain a Competitive Edge by Building Trust With Producers 

As privacy breaches and misuse of data become more commonplace, consumers are losing trust and thinking twice about the brands they engage with. 

The agriculture sector is no different, in fact, some would argue this sentiment is even stronger amongst producers and will continue to grow as technology becomes more integrated into their business operations.

According to a 2022 McKinsey study, there’s still a largely untapped segment of US producers that have yet to adopt technology and innovation, though this is predicted to change over the next few years – and you can bet that during their purchase decision journey, data privacy will be top of mind.

Companies that can demonstrate that privacy and security are a priority have a lot to gain in terms of new market share and growth.  Sharon Bauer, from Bamboo Consulting, relates prioritizing compliance as an “investment in trust”.

So how do you build trust with producers? Sharon has devised a strategy that she refers to as the 4C’s:

  • Clarity – Be transparent about your intentions when it comes to collecting data (Sharon recommends being contextual to show the value transfer producers give up); and be concise when asking for consent. producers especially don’t have the time to read page-long consent forms that are full of complex, legal fillers. 
  • Culture – Privacy requires collaboration from all members of the business, beginning with leadership. It’s embedded into the fabric of the company and should be viewed as a driver for success (not a barrier). 
  • Craft – Privacy is a feature of the design process, and is discussed at the inception of ideas, not an afterthought that gets tagged on to the end to satisfy a privacy checkbox. 
  • Communication – Demonstrate your commitment to privacy through marketing and PR efforts. producers won’t know you’re different from other agriculture companies, you’ll have to let them know – but be certain you can back up your claims. 

Increase Profitability Through Higher Data Utilization

Producers who trust a company are also more likely to engage with them and use their products and services more frequently, and are more willing to provide their data/information when prompted. This not only means more producer data for companies but more opportunities to collect different types of data (e.g. online surveys). 

If data is the new oil, then more data (of different types) obviously means more value and higher profits, right? 

That’s usually not the case. A 2020 survey by IDC found that most enterprise companies leverage only 57% of the data they collect, which leaves just under half the data collected, generating no value, and worse, putting companies at greater risk. 

Turning data into knowledge and actionable insights is a difficult task. However, companies that prioritize compliance do a much better job of it, and therefore realize higher profitability through increased data utilization. 

Why’s that? Because of data governance. Data governance is the strategic framework that allows companies to gain a holistic view of all their data practices; essentially the who, what, where, when, why and how of your data. 

It’s also the foundation of an effective privacy program, as it facilitates privacy and security by design, resulting in policies and controls that are tailored to the needs of your business.

Through governance, data becomes more discoverable and leads to increased utilization across the organization, the cornerstone to becoming a data-driven culture. The sooner data governance is implemented, the sooner you can realize operational efficiencies that come from better data management, thus creating higher profitability. 

Anup Patel

Anup Patel is a data analyst at WS. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.