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Discussing Ag Tech and Cybersecurity with Your Farm & Ranch Clients

October 12, 2020

While it’s created new efficiencies and opportunities for ag producers, technology like precision ag tools also creates unique vulnerabilities. Given the constant threat of theft, misuse or other illicit access to and use of personal data, keeping your ag customers’ data secure is massively important, especially when sensitive financial, operational and other personal information is involved.

As a trusted adviser to your customers, you provide critical risk management tools — including cyber liability coverage — to men and women whose livelihood is agriculture. Now more than ever, it’s your job to not just provide the products and services that mitigate risk for farmers and ranchers, but also the assurance that their data is safe from cybersecurity threats. Cyber liability coverage is just one component of a well-thought-out cybersecurity plan.

Cybersecurity challenges in agriculture technology

The first message to express to customers is they’re not alone in facing cybersecurity threats.

The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS) study shows the majority of large row crop farmers (2,900 acres or larger) use mapping for agronomic decision-making and guidance systems for machinery and equipment. Eighty percent of those surveyed by ERS say these precision ag tools are part of their operations, while almost half said they’ve added variable-rate seeding, fertilizer and chemical application systems.

With that growth trend comes a similar spike in the sheer amount of data generated, collected and utilized. Just as with the ag tech sector’s development up to today, future technology development — and resulting new levels of farm productivity and efficiency — will hinge upon the continued collection of secure data  by trusted industry partners.

“If we don’t collect data, we’re not going to move down the field. That’s going to be done through technology and innovations, and the only way to make better decisions is through better data,” said Craig Ganssle, president and CEO of Farmwave, an agricultural artificial intelligence company devoted to building “data models that power decision-making and preserve the future of farming helps farmers use their data to inform field operations.”

“As a collective whole, we want to move forward with new and better ways to make decisions, because that’s where we’ll see progress. We’re going to make better decisions based on the data we collect,” he added.

Recognize customer data’s value

Given the increasing hardware and cloud-based systems and platforms farmers use for things like GPS guidance, soil sampling, remote sensing, and unmanned or autonomous field operations, the overall vulnerability to cyberattacks is on the rise. The good news is cybersecurity capabilities continue to advance. Protecting data today is a matter of recognizing its value and treating it just like you would any other critically important asset at your customers’ operations.

Clients should work with secure ag tech partners

Start the process of securing your customers’ precision ag data by a look at the technology they use and their providers. Cybersecurity has become a key component of the industry, with many companies investing considerably in maintaining the highest levels of customer data security. Encourage customers to ask questions of your machinery and precision ag partners to confirm the security of your data on their platforms whether it’s stored in the cloud or on physical servers.

While farmers and ranchers may have smaller direct roles in data management than their technology partners, there are vulnerabilities to which they can be attentive in maintaining a high level of cybersecurity at the farm level, especially when it comes to the workforce and on-site computer and networking hardware.