Monday, November 16, 2015

Bringing Transparency to Farm Data Contracts: A Presentation to Indiana Farm Bureau

On November 16, 2015 I'll be speaking at Indiana Farm Bureau's annual convention about legal issues related to transfer, use and control of farm data.  I'll also include a discussion of industry efforts to bring transparency to contracts between farmers and their agricultural technology providers.

To see an agenda for the convention, click here:  Indiana Farm Bureau State Convention

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Farm Co-ops and Farm Data

This Friday, November 6, 2015, I'll presenting at the Farm Cooperatives Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  My presentation is about the legal aspects of farm data, including control, transfer, use, and transparency.  I will focus on issues that are specific to farm cooperatives.

Here are some other resources for attendees.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

US House Ag Committee Holds Hearings on Farm Data

The US House of Representatives Agricultural Committee will hold hearings today on Big Data and Agriculture: Innovations and Implications.  You can watch on YouTube (link below).  I think Congressional intervention at this time could stifle innovation of what is a relatively young industry, but I'm glad to see Congress looking into the issues associated with farm data privacy, transfer, use and control. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

How VW's Diesel Engine Debacle Will Impact Farmers

Volkswagen (VW) has been in the news lately after university researchers discovered its "clean diesel" emissions were as much as 40 times higher than EPA regulations allowed. VW apparently programmed its engine control unit (ECU) software to run on a more efficient setting—meeting EPA emission standards—while undergoing testing. But in normal use the software runs a different setting, boosting performance at the expense of emissions. The scandal caused the CEO to promptly resign, but the fallout is hardly over.  What will this mean to agriculture?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

FAA Issues $1.9 Million Fine to Drone Operator

On October 6, 2015 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an enforcement letter to SkyPan International, Inc. assessing a $1.9 million dollar civil penalty for flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) without permission. The FAA has fined drone operators for unlawful flights in the past, but this is by far the largest civil penalty to date. This should be a reminder to unauthorized drone pilots that flying commercial UAVs is still illegal and carries great risk in the United States.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Four Takeaways from the Precision Ag Data Platforms Conference

The recent Precision Ag Data Platforms conference was one of the most interesting events I've attended this past year. Ag data management platforms are part of a young industry by agricultural standards, but these offerings are growing and diverse. Like any new technology, growth comes with a lot of growing pains. Here are four reoccurring themes I heard throughout the day.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Farm Data in Custom Farming Contracts

As custom harvesters make their way across the United States and Canada this summer, I keep wondering what happens to all that yield data these machines are collecting.  I am sure much of the data is forwarded to the landowners and farmers so that they can make decisions for next year.  I hope so.  But do custom harvesters address this in their agreements?  Here are some suggestions for how they should.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Is Your "E-Signature" Valid?

The prevalence of "I accept” check boxes on online contracts may have some people wondering whether one click of the mouse is as effective as signing your John Hancock?  The answer, for the most part, is yes.  “E-signatures” can be just as binding as real signatures. But like all legal matters, the validity of e-signatures is not always black and white.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Response to NPR's Article about DIY Tractor Repair

A recent NPR story exclaims that “copyright law makes it illegal to repair [farm] machinery run by software.”  (DIY Tractor Repair Runs Afoul Of Copyright Law).  WIRED essentially ran this same article a few months ago (We Can't Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Ownership).  Both authors make some good points, but both also overstate the facts to make their case. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) does grant John Deere (and other ag equipment manufacturers) the ability to prevent tampering with their proprietary software--such as the engine ECU--but contrary to the NPR article’s premise, normal maintenance and repairs do not run afoul of the law.

Monday, August 10, 2015

My Top Ten Farm Data Articles

I've been writing about the legal issues surrounding farm data for a few years now.  Quite simply, farm data is the most exciting subject I've encountered in more than a dozen years practicing law. A farmer's ability to collect, share, and analyze data has tremendous potential to improve farming in next decade. As a farm kid turned-lawyer, I see my role in agriculture's big data revolution to push farmers to think about legal issues they may not have considered, and to push ag technology providers to rethink traditional legal frameworks that apply to data in other industries. Farming is different. That's why I keep writing.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Are Farmers Hitting the Brakes on New Technology?

When my dad retired from farming, one of the first things he purchased was a nice late-model John Deere 4020. He still owns some land and uses this tractor for dirt work and land maintenance.  With the baby-boomer generation of farmers retiring, I assumed that values on older tractors would probably start to rise as these retired farmers purchase their childhood dream machines. But a recent post by Greg “Machinery Pete” Peterson got me thinking that increasing values on used tractors might be reflecting a different trend—is it possible the rise in used machinery prices is a sign of farmer backlash against new technology?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Big Data and Technology in Ag Seminar August 14, 2015

Please join me for the Big Data and Technology in Agriculture seminar on August 14, 2015 at Indiana Farm Bureau. The day promises to have a number of engaging speakers who will cover different aspects of farm data technology, privacy and security. I'll be speaking about the legal aspects of managing farm data as well as efforts to ensure transparency with ag technology providers. More information can be found by clicking "Continue Reading" below or going to

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Are We Ready for Autonomous Tractors?

Although Google’s autonomous car appears to be getting most of the press, the auto-guidance system on tractors, combines, sprayers and other farm equipment has been around for years. Farmers still “pilot” their equipment today—sometimes pushing the “autopilot” button—but it does not take a crystal ball to predict that someday farm machinery will pilot itself around fields while farmers monitor such equipment remotely from a control room at the farm.  Are we ready for the liability issues that may bring?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Put Junk Data in the Silo. Get Junk Data Out of the Silo.

Farmers had a great saying growing up, which goes like this:  “If you put rotten feed in a silo, you get rotten feed out of a silo.”  The same is applicable to farm data.  Seems like every week a new product emerges that is designed to collect, analyze, and benchmark farmers’ data in hopes of improving productivity.  In the race to collect farm data, I think the data collectors are often forgetting this old farm expression.  There is no point in collecting and aggregating “junk” data.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Is Your Farm Data a Trade Secret?

Every agricultural technology provider likes to say that “the farmer owns the data,” but is that really true?  This statement hinges on the answer to a central question: is farm data a form of intellectual property that the law protects?  Farm data doesn’t neatly fit into the legal box designed to hold patents, copyrights, or trademarks.  That leaves the law of trade secrets.  If farm data is a protected form of intellectual property, it must be a form of trade secret.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Are Livestock Farmers Being Left Behind in Ag's Big Data Revolution?

The rapid spread of the avian flu across the Unites States has been cause for concern for a lot of farmers and consumers.  I can’t help but wonder whether wide-spread adoption of data collection and sharing by poultry farmers could have helped stop the spread of the avian flu.  Most of the focus on farm data the past few months has been on the impact on corn, soybean, wheat, canola, and cotton farmers.  I keep wondering when the big data solutions for livestock farmers will appear. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

What Makes Agronomic Farm Data Different from Other Forms of Intellectual Property?

I often hear other attorneys say that agronomic farm data is just like other forms of intellectual property, and that the issues farmers are confronting have already been dealt with in other areas of law.  But the truth is that agronomic farm data is unlike any other form of property. Agronomic data is unique. As a result, how much protection the law will ultimately afford farmers for their agronomic data is an open question. This post explains why agronomic data is different than other forms of intellectual property.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Farm Machinery, Copyright, and the Right to Tinker

It may not be enumerated in the Bill of Rights, but the Right to Tinker with farm machinery is well embedded in America’s rural culture.  I grew up a first-hand witness to farm tinkering.  I still remember when my dad and Uncle Herman thought it would be a good idea to “marry” a header from a John Deere chopper onto a Farmhand silage cutter.  Farmhand made a good harvester, but a lousy header.  With some farm-engineering and a lot of welding, a new Farmhand/Deere silage cutter was created. The machine wasn't perfect, but it cut a lot of silage. It was the epitome of tinkering.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

John Deere Does Not Own Your Tractor.

WIRED magazine’s recent headline: “We can’t let John Deere destroy the very idea of ownership,” really got my attention.  The article’s premise is based upon John Deere’s recent comment to the US Copyright Office that farmers who buy a new John Deere tractor are granted an implied license to operate a tractor for the duration of its life.  Or as WIRED puts it:  “It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.”  I decided to dig a little deeper.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Does Your Co-Op Own Your Farm Data?

Recently I was asked this question:  When a farm cooperative (a “co-op”) does work for a farmer and in the process generates agronomic data, does the co-op own that data or does the farmer?   Many in the ag industry like to say “the farmer owns the data,” but the co-op’s generation of farm data presents a more complicated problem. Of course, if the co-op has a written contract that addresses ownership, this is a non-issue. (See my previous post for more on this: Co-Ops and Custom Applicators: Are You Addressing Farm Data?).  But who owns the data if there is no written contract?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Drones at the Speedway: A Presentation to The Racing Attorneys Conference (TRAC)

On April 15, 2015 I'll be on a panel discussing hot topics in the law at The Racing Attorneys Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana.  I'll be talking about the legalities of unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) or "drones" in the motor racing industry. I've posted a link to my presentation here if you are unable to attend:

Drones at the Speedway: TRAC Conference Presentation

Thursday, April 9, 2015

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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Big Data on the Farm: Legal Issues Surrounding Farm Data Ownership, Transfer, and Control

This Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 12:30 EDT, I'll be hosting a webinar titled "Big Data on the Farm: Legal Issues Surrounding Farm Data Ownership, Transfer, and Control."  The webinar is hosted by ThompsonReuters and geared towards a legal audience. Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit is available for most states. More information below.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Don't Forget the Little Guy: FAA's Proposed Rules for "Micro" UAVs

Many articles have been written about the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) proposed rules for "small" unmanned aircraft systems ("small UAS" or "small UAVs"). But most authors have overlooked that the FAA is also considering special, less stringent rules for "micro" UAVs.  Micro UAVs weigh less than 4.4 lbs (small drones are less than 55 lbs.) and travel less than 35 mph (small drones are restricted to 100 mph).  This article takes a closer look at the FAA's proposal for micro-UAVs and its promise for agriculture.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ten Key Points to the FAA's Proposed Small UAV Rule

The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has released proposed rules that would govern the integration of “small” unmanned aircraft systems (“small UAS”) into the National Airspace System. The proposed rules specifically state that they would allow crop monitoring and inspection, aerial photography, and research and development—meaning commercial agricultural uses fall squarely within the new rule. Here is my summary of the proposed rule, followed by some suggestions to current and future drone operators.