Agri-Tech Week 2018: Food firms need access to public data for free, says Agrimetrics boss

PUBLISHED: 13:01 09 November 2018 | UPDATED: 13:13 09 November 2018

David Flanders, chief executive of Agrimetrics, speaking at the Agri-Tech Week event at Easton and Otley College. Picture: Chris Hill.

David Flanders, chief executive of Agrimetrics, speaking at the Agri-Tech Week event at Easton and Otley College. Picture: Chris Hill.

Chris Hill

UK farmers will remain at a competitive disadvantage against countries like the US and Germany unless there is a “sea change” in government policy to make publicly-funded data available for free.

That was the view from an industry expert speaking at an Agri-Tech Week event organised by the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association at Easton and Otley College, outside Norwich.

David Flanders is chief executive of Agrimetrics which has built a platform to connect disparate public data and convert it into valuable insights for the agri-food sector.

“The data on our platfiorm is primarily publicly-funded, and therein lies a problem,” he said. “Since the taxpayer has already invested in this data you might expect it to be free for all of us to use Ordnance Survey, Rural Payments Agency data, etc – sadly this isn’t the case.

“This puts the UK at a huge disadvantage, particularly against countries like Germany and the US who have a policy to make public-funded data available to all.”

Mr Flanders gave an example of a free data platform being used in America. “It offers everyone free access to just about everything you need to know about land in the US,” he said. “It has merged free publicly-available big data on field boundaries, the environment, soil and weather, which is just what we’ve done, but you need to pay for those.

“It is an easy-to-use service providing farmers across the US, at no cost, with the information to help thenm drive sustainable solutions for greater farm productivity and profits.

“We’re trying to do the same here, but we’ve got a ball and chain wrapped around our feet without access to the data.

“So I would say a speedy government intervention and a sea change in public funding policy is desperately needed.”

The meeting also heard a presentation from Prof Andrew Fearne, of the UEA’s Norwich Business School, who spoke about the value of data to small food and drink producers via the school’s Who Buys My Food project, which derives “actionable insight” by analysing retail sales and loyalty card data from supermarkets. He also introduced new digital tools which use public databases to allow firms to map the number and social type of potential customers surrounding their postcode.

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