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As big data aims to boost Sask. agriculture, some are skeptical

The word ‘data’ has become what some farmers in Saskatchewan would describe as a four-letter swearword.

“Farmers can get taken advantage of by suppliers, buyers and equipment providers, who dwarf them, so that makes farmers apprehensive,” said Jesse Hirsh, who farms in eastern Ontario and does consulting work in the agriculture technology industry. “They have every reason to be because we’ve seen how the technology industries have ravished every other industry.”

Hirsh was part of a panel discussion at Canada’s Farm Show on Wednesday looking at the pros of data, but also lingering concerns about sharing it.

For example, Ken Jackson’s company VeriGrain collects data from farming customers so they know the exact quality of their grain.

Those farmers can then use that data to reassure buyers that their grain meets quality standards, Jackson said, helping build trust and optimizing profitability.

Further, data can be used to help inform farmers on when they should upgrade equipment, when to plant and what to spray.

Bryan Prystupa, who helps farmers digitize their records through Farm Credit Canada AgExpert, used the ‘moneyball’ analogy when describing data.

The idea is based on the popular book where baseball coach Billy Beane used statistics to create an unbeatable team.

“It’s finding a way to take that information, translate into data and then make better decisions over that,” Prystupa said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

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