The agricultural sector is coming under ever-increasing scrutiny from consumers, with producers unable to tell their “paddock to plate” story under threat of a consumer boycott, writes Company-X director David Hallett.

Sir Francis Bacon, the inventor of the scientific method, coined the phrase “Knowledge itself is power” in his book Meditationes Sacrae in 1597. If he were writing today he might have said, “Data is money” or even “Data is truth”.

In other words, there’s a real opportunity for everyone involved in the production of food to step up to the challenge. Data collected on-farm, all the way through the production process, can be used to tell the agribusiness sector’s story. Imagine knowing what farm, or the specific animal, your beef burger comes from, what it was fed on, where it was slaughtered, and so on.

But it takes some vision to get this level of visibility in front of consumers from different players involved in the food chain. Everyone involved needs more than complete confidence in the story of their foodstuff, as well as to see the benefits of telling the true story to consumers.

To be clear here, I’m not advocating sharing every piece of data, as a lot of it is sensitive, business-specific, data. Working together the agribusiness sector can pick and choose data that the consumer might be interested in. That will vary depending on what part of the primary industries sector businesses are operating in.

My friend and fellow software specialist, Rezare Systems chief executive Andrew Cooke, knew the importance of telling the great true story that New Zealand has when it comes to the production of food when he agreed to speak at the fifth annual MobileTECH primary industries summit in Rotorua.

“When you fabricate a story that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, you get caught fast,” Cooke said at the summit.

“The authenticity of the story determines whether it will survive long enough for people to tell their friends.”

“Combining data from multiple sources lets you see the story from more than one perspective,” Cooke said.

We’re already part of the way there.

Rezare was involved in the development of DataLinker, a secure, standardized data transfer system for the primary sector. DataLinker is aligned to the Farm Data Standards, a set of common data vocabularies assisting New Zealand agribusiness develop efficient technology applications and integrations developed to make the Farm Data Code of Practice possible.

Accreditation to the code requires organizations to outline the steps they take to safeguard farmer data. Compliant organizations agree to disclose their practices and policies around data rights, data processing and sharing, and data storage and security. They will implement practices that provide farmers with utmost confidence their data is safe and is managed appropriately.

I’m on the accreditation review panel for the Farm Data Code of Practice which ensures organizations applying for accreditation process follow the correct procedure.

To get accreditation businesses handling farm data must complete a self-audit to determine if their disclosures and practices are in line with the code of practice’s expectations. They must also make a statutory declaration to confirm disclosures and practices are compliant with the code, before submitting their application for assessment.

If approved for accreditation business receive an annual license and certificate, and are provided with the Farm Data Code of Practice trademark for their use. Accreditation is reviewed annually.

So the infrastructure is there, as is the knowhow. All we need is the will.