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Uprooting Seeds of Doubt

Agworld crops, cotton field

How the Australian Farm Data Code Will Propagate Trusting Relationships

The Australian Farm Data Code 2020 (‘Code’) was developed through the collaborative efforts of the National Farmers’ Federation and the agricultural industry. The Code seeks to address the lack of trust between farmers and service providers who manage farm data.

Farmer mistrust has been a major barrier to embracing digital disruption1. This reflects a significant loss for the industry, with the Australian Farm Institute estimating that these technologies could lift the gross value of agricultural production by 25% and national GDP by 1.5%2.

Through the establishment of leading data governance principles, the Code aims to strengthen farmers’ confidence in how their data is managed and consequently bolster the adoption of digital technologies in the industry3.

Key Principles

The main aspects of the Code’s key principles are briefly described below:

  1. Transparent, clear and honest collection, use and sharing of farm data
    • Farmers must be provided with ‘plain-English’ information and opportunities to enquire about service provider practices.
    • Farmers must be informed of any risks or detriments which may adversely affect them.
    • Farmers must be updated as to farm data practice amendments or proposed changes to terms and conditions (which they may reject without incurring financial penalty).
  2. Fair and equitable use of farm data
    • Data must only be collected, used and shared for purposes made clear to the farmer.
    • Farmers should benefit from the use of individual farm data and their privacy must be protected.
    • Data cannot be deleted without authorisation.
  3. Ability to control and access farm data
    • Farm data must only be used for purposes specified in the terms agreed to by the farmer.
    • Farmers must have the ability to determine who can access and use individual farm data.
    • Providers must protect sensitive data and comply with obligations imposed by privacy legislation.
    • Providers must explain the reasonable steps being taken to ensure affiliates accessing farm data do not contravene the Code.
  4. Documentation and record keeping
    • Record keeping systems must be in place to ensure all farm data processes and decisions are documented clearly and comprehensively.
  5. Portability of farm data
    • Farmers must be able to retrieve their individual farm data (processed and unprocessed) for storage and/or use in third party systems (including during any data retention period).
    • Providers must delete any individual farm data or private data related to a farmer at the farmer’s request.
  6. Keeping farm data secure
    • Providers must take reasonable and prudent steps to ensure all types of data are protected at all times.
    • Farmers must be notified where an attempt (successful or otherwise) has been made to gain unauthorised access to or interfere with farm or private data.
    • Appropriate backup and recovery regimes must be in place as well as contingency plans to return or delete data in the event of insolvency.
    • Ensure all staff and subcontractors are retrained to comply with the Code.
  7. Compliance with National and International Laws
    • Where information disclosure to a third party is required by law, the provider will avoid disclosing farm or private data.
    • If farm or private data must be disclosed (where legally permissible), the farmer must be notified promptly that the identifying information will be (or has been – if prior warning is not possible) disclosed.

Definitions

The code refers to three types of data:

  • Farm Data – individual and/or aggregated farm data.
    • Individual Farm Data – operations, conditions or characteristics data connected with a farmer or farm, produced whilst providing a commercial service to a farmer.
    • Aggregated Farm Data – individual farm data which are aggregated or transformed so that a farmer or farm cannot be identified.
  • Public Data – data from any source relating to a farmer or their business, except farm data.
  • Private Data – data which could directly or indirectly identify an individual farmer or their business.

Under the Code, private data are afforded the greatest protection, followed by farm data then public data.

Implications

Despite being a voluntary initiative, the Code provides a seedbed of best practice principles to support the growth of trusting relationships between farmers and service providers.

Service providers are offered clear principles which can inform both their discussions with farmers and development of transparent data policies4.

The Code allows farmers to improve their awareness of data governance practices whilst offering a framework for comparing and negotiating data policies5. This will ensure farmers can add maximum value to their businesses by leveraging the benefits of digital disruption6.


1. L Wiseman and J Sanderson, ‘The legal dimensions of digital agriculture in Australia: An examination of the current and future state of data rules dealing with ownership, access, privacy and trust’ (P2D Project Report, Griffith University, USC Australia and Cotton Research Development Corporation, 2017).

2. E Perrett, R Heath, A Laurie and L Darragh, ‘Accelerating precision agriculture to decision agriculture – analysis of the economic benefit and strategies for delivery of digital agriculture in Australia’ (P2D Project Report, Australian Farm Institute and Cotton Research Development Corporation, 2017) 25.

3. National Farmers’ Federation, ‘NFF Code sets the ground rules for farm data’ (Media Release, 18 February 2020)

4. National Farmers’ Federation, ‘Farm Data Code’ (Code Edition 1., February 2020).

5. Ibid.

6. National Farmers’ Federation (n 3).

Bernard Evans

Bernard Evans

HICKSONS PARTNER AND PROFESSOR OF LAW AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME AUSTRALIA

Bernard is a Partner at Hicksons and a Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia where he takes regular classes in company law, competition and consumer law and commercial practice and ethics. Working with a diverse range of companies in the agricultural, resources, building, mining, healthcare, pharmaceutical and government sectors, his experience spans a broad spectrum of corporate transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, business and share sales, and corporate restructures. Bernard has long been a valued adviser to Agworld and its founders. Bernard also works closely with clients on consumer protection and product liability issues and has helped a number of clients with the design and implementation of their distribution and compliance programs. For more information, please visit https://www.hicksons.com.au/our-team/bernard-evans.

Isabella Dias

University of Notre Dame Honours Student

Isabella Dias is an intern at Hicksons Lawyers, and honours student at the University of Notre Dame School of Law.