Monsanto’s Terrifying New Scheme: Massive Amounts of Data Collection

Procesos y productosFor all you Monsanto watchers, here’s where the corporation we all love to hate is looking to expand its reach, via Salon via AlterNet:

Imagine cows fed and milked entirely by robots. Or tomatoes that send an e-mail when they need more water. Or a farm where all the decisions about where to plant seeds, spray fertilizer and steer tractors are made by software on servers on the other side of the sea.

This is what more and more of our agriculture may come to look like in the years ahead, as farming meets Big Data. There’s no shortage of farmers and industry gurus who think this kind of “smart” farming could bring many benefits. Pushing these tools onto fields, the idea goes, will boost our ability to control this fiendishly unpredictable activity and help farmers increase yields even while using fewer resources.

The big question is who exactly will end up owning all this data, and who gets to determine how it is used. On one side stand some of the largest corporations in agriculture, who are racing to gather and put their stamp on as much of this information as they can. Opposing them are farmers’ groups and small open-source technology start-ups, which want to ensure a farm’s data stays in the farmer’s control and serves the farmer’s interests.

Who wins will determine not just who profits from the information, but who, at the end of the day, directs life and business on the farm.

One recent round in this battle took place in October, when Monsanto spent close to $1 billion to buy  the Climate Corporation, a data analytics firm. Last year the chemical and seed company also bought  Precision Planting, another high-tech firm, and also  launched a venture capital arm geared to fund tech start-ups.

In November, John Deere and DuPont Pioneer  announced plans to partner to provide farmers information and prescriptions in near-real time. Deere has pioneered “precision farming” equipment in recent years, equipping tractors and combines to automatically transmit data collected from particular farms to company databases. DuPont, meanwhile, has rolled out a service that analyzes data into “ actionable management strategies.”

 Many farmers are wary that these giants could use these tools to win unprecedented levels of insight into the economics and operational workings of their farms. The issue is not that these companies would shower the farmers with ads, as Facebook does when it knows you’re looking to buy sneakers. For farmers, the risks of big data seem to pierce right to the heart of how they make a living. What would it mean, for instance, for Monsanto to know the intricacies of their business?…

[continues at Salon via AlterNet]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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9 Comments on "Monsanto’s Terrifying New Scheme: Massive Amounts of Data Collection"

  1. Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness | Dec 31, 2013 at 8:25 am |

    There is a very old saying, “the best fertilizer is the farmer’s footsteps.”

    It seems that the more information society learns, the more wisdom it forgets.

  2. paulalovescats | Dec 31, 2013 at 10:48 am |

    Looking to expand ITS reach, no apostrophe. Damn, I’m sick of seeing this! His, hers, yours, ours, and theirs have none either. Knock it off.

  3. Virtually Yours | Dec 31, 2013 at 1:16 pm |

    The info that is gathered should be freely available to everyone, as well as the food that is produced. Automated farms could then network with each other and report on common trends. The role of humans would increasingly diminish, thus freeing our time to focus on other causes/concerns. Volunteers could manage what little oversight work would be required of humans, and if certain farms lacked enough volunteers then there could be a jury-like lottery to fill those temporary positions. If all of your food was free, I doubt that too many people would complain.

    • gustave courbet | Jan 1, 2014 at 9:00 pm |

      But unfortunately our economy is not run for the benefit of people. At least not most people. We don’t really need more technology to solve our social problems, as they are generally a problem of resource distribution. We as a society will have to redefine our priorities before it becomes more egalitarian.

      • Virtually Yours | Jan 2, 2014 at 3:19 pm |

        “But unfortunately our economy is not run for the benefit of people” Not yet, but that can and will change. And I agree that new technology will not magically solve all of our social inequalities, because we already possess everything we need for true revolution to manifest. But while thinking about the construction and implementation of a new system which is truly (once and for all) by and for the peeps, it’s nice to know that tech like this exists and that it could be utilized in a way that is equitable for everyone, everywhere.

        • gustave courbet | Jan 3, 2014 at 11:34 am |

          I wish I could be so optimistic, but I don’t see the tech trends moving in that direction. I see consolidation and vertical integration; I see the internet of things and the cloud being used as another layer of the panopticon being constructed by multinationals and corrupt governments. I hope there is a long term trend toward a more equitable culture, but the short term looks pretty dystopian to me. I hope I’m wrong and the effective interlocking control of finance, government, media, and military are interrupted.

          • Virtually Yours | Jan 3, 2014 at 2:27 pm |

            I suspect that we are both right: things are probably gonna continue to get worse before we start seeing them get better. That seems to be the sad historical precedent: wait until things are falling apart before coming up with solutions. Actually, no…there are already plenty of ideas for solutions. It’s just that we wait until too late before we decide that it is absolutely necessary to implement any of them. What causes this apathy? Is it fear or laziness? Well, it’s both…

            Laziness often comes in the form of comfort: we have our smart-things and our instantaneous fixes and it allows us to ignore inconvenient things like the fact that there are significant portions of the global population who don’t know where their next meal is coming from or who still don’t have access to clean drinking water. We can’t be bothered to take the time to acknowledge the environmental impact which our conveniences represent, and we don’t like to think about the working conditions of the people who make most of our stuff because that would make us feel bad…and it’s not until we experience those conditions directly that we begint to sit up and take notice.

            We are also very fearful of change…it can be stimulating to think and talk about change, but when it comes time to implementing/enforcing these new concepts, we get nervous. Part of it comes down to fear of the unknown: what if these new ideas don’t work…what if things stay the same or get worse? But the bigger and more intimidating part is: fear of backlash by those who prop up and defend the current system because they rely exclusively upon it in an eternal (and very sad) attempt to continue filling that void in their lives with inconsequential things like money, wealth, and power…

            The ironic part is, there is plenty of research which now shows that altruism actually does fill that void…it makes you feel happy and content and good to know that you have helped someone else. The more people you help, the beter you feel. You wanna secure your legacy? Help as many people as you possibly can! Perhaps if that information were to really sink in, things might begin to change without having to get any worse…wouldn’t that be nice!

            Otherwise, it’s gonna keep going in the current direction of the elite tightening their grip, and we all know the classic line from Star Wars: “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” It’s shocking to me that those at the top have failed to grasp this simplest of concepts: rebellions and revolutions are born and bred in those moments of constriction, and it’s because no one can breathe. Hands create, fists destroy…it’s a choice and it always has been.

          • gustave courbet | Jan 4, 2014 at 8:53 pm |

            Well said.

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