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27 November 2017: Data captured by on-farm machinery could mean dollars for farm businesses, with plans for a data co-op established in the broadacre cropping regions of the Wimmera and Mallee in Western Victoria.

Farming Together-backed farmer meetings held in October (right) saw unanimous support for the concept driven by the Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) in collaboration with the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals and Griffith University.

A Federal Government program, Farming Together helps primary producers Australia-wide form co-ops and collaborations to secure better margins and boost farmgate returns. BCG was a successful recipient of a Farming Together Farmer Group Project grant. It will use the $115,500 funding to investigate the potential of a co-op to collect, curate and make money from the increasingly sophisticated data automatically collected by harvesting, sowing, irrigation and other computerised monitoring systems on-farm.

Chris Sounness, BCG CEO said: “Once a data co-op has been established, farmers would be well-positioned to share their data with other co-op participants – both to support activities for improved farming practices and for commercial purposes.”

Meeting attendees discussed how BCG could test the concept of a data co-op with data collected from farmers without committing to a specific technological solution.

“This incremental approach enables farmers to retain maximum control and flexibility while building a valuable data set,” said Chris. He added that a pilot project would be undertaken through to completion of the 2017/18 harvest season.

The group will next meet on January 30 to consider a draft agreement covering the needs of farmers, BCG and participating third parties. One future collaborator could be CSIRO, brought in to scope technology options, Chris said. “We need to find a technology solution that offers the flexibility to build upon or migrate to another option.”

The group would also need to plan how it would engage with potential farmer participants in the pilot program and to gather support from aligned parties, such as agronomists.

“And we will also need to discuss a financial model that identifies the key variables that will underpin the economic sustainability of a data co-op,” Chris said.

Lorraine Gordon, program director of Farming Together said: “The Farming Together program supports farmer-driven projects that are catalytic. This proposal couples high-end technology with top-level farmer acumen and experience. It promises not only improved margins for the nation’s croppers, but has potential application across many other agricultural sectors.”