Modern U.S. farming is being transformed by precision agriculture, writes Paul Roberts, the founder of securepairs.org and Editor in Chief at Security Ledger.
Theres autonomous tractors and “smart spraying” systems that use AI-powered cameras to identify weeds, just for starters. “Among the critical components of precision agriculture: Internet- and GPS connected agricultural equipment, highly accurate remote sensors, ‘big data’ analytics and cloud computing…”
As with any technological revolution, however, there are both “winners” and “losers” in the emerging age of precision agriculture… Precision agriculture, once broadly adopted, promises to further reduce the need for human labor to run farms. (Autonomous equipment means you no longer even need drivers!) However, the risks it poses go well beyond a reduction in the agricultural work force. First, as the USDA notes on its website: the scale and high capital costs of precision agriculture technology tend to favor large, corporate producers over smaller farms. Then there are the systemic risks to U.S. agriculture of an increasingly connected and consolidated agriculture sector, with a few major OEMs having the ability to remotely control and manage vital equipment on millions of U.S. farms… (Listen to my podcast interview with the hacker Sick Codes, who reverse engineered a John Deere display to run the Doom video game for insights into the company’s internal struggles with cybersecurity.)
Finally, there are the reams of valuable and proprietary environmental and operational data that farmers collect, store and leverage to squeeze the maximum productivity out of their land. For centuries, such information resided in farmers’ heads, or on written or (more recently) digital records that they owned and controlled exclusively, typically passing that knowledge and data down to succeeding generation of farm owners. Precision agriculture technology greatly expands the scope, and granularity, of that data. But in doing so, it also wrests it from the farmer’s control and shares it with equipment manufacturers and service providers — often without the explicit understanding of the farmers themselves, and almost always without monetary compensation to the farmer for the data itself. In fact, the Federal Government is so concerned about farm data they included a section (1619) on “information gathering” into the latest farm bill.
Over time, this massive transfer of knowledge from individual farmers or collectives to multinational corporations risks beggaring farmers by robbing them of one of their most vital assets: data, and turning them into little more than passive caretakers of automated equipment managed, controlled and accountable to distant corporate masters.
Weighing in is Kevin Kenney, a vocal advocate for the “right to repair” agricultural equipment (and also an alternative fuel systems engineer at Grassroots Energy LLC). In the interview, he warns about the dangers of tying repairs to factory-installed firmware, and argues that its the long-time farmer’s “trade secrets” that are really being harvested today. The ultimate beneficiary could end up being the current “cabal” of tractor manufacturers.
“While we can all agree that it’s coming…the question is who will own these robots?”
First, we need to acknowledge that there are existing laws on the books which for whatever reason, are not being enforced. The FTC should immediately start an investigation into John Deere and the rest of the ‘Tractor Cabal’ to see to what extent farmers’ farm data security and privacy are being compromised. This directly affects national food security because if thousands- or tens of thousands of tractors’ are hacked and disabled or their data is lost, crops left to rot in the fields would lead to bare shelves at the grocery store… I think our universities have also been delinquent in grasping and warning farmers about the data-theft being perpetrated on farmers’ operations throughout the United States and other countries by makers of precision agricultural equipment.
Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader chicksdaddy for sharing the article.
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