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Farmers need to boost their cyber-security in a data-driven world

PUBLISHED: 12:00 18 May 2019 | UPDATED: 12:58 18 May 2019

Farmers have been urged to improve their cyber-security in an increasingly data-driven industry. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Farmers have been urged to improve their cyber-security in an increasingly data-driven industry. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Digital data will boost agriculture's future productivity - but it means farmers need to protect themselves against rising cyber security risks says MARTIN COLLISON of rural consultancy Collison and Associates, based near King's Lynn.

Martin Collison of Collison & AssociatesMartin Collison of Collison & Associates

As every aspect of life moves online, farmers and the food chain have been identified as one of the sectors with the most to gain from digital data. The UK Made Smarter Review suggested the food chain could see a gain of £56bn in added value over the next decade - for comparison, total UK farm output in 2017 was £26bn.

In 2017 Accenture estimated that artificial intelligence (AI) could increase annual growth in agricultural value added from 1.3pc to 3.4pc by 2035, one of the largest increases in 16 industries. McKinsey have suggested that American agriculture was "behind the curve" in digital technology use but, notably for farm data, reported privacy was a major concern for farmers with connected machines collecting and sharing their data.

Similar European concerns led to a 2018 EU Code of Conduct on Agricultural Data Sharing between machinery manufacturers and farmers.

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I have recently been speaking at EU events on food chain automation for the SKIN project on short food chains, we are involved in the Internet of Food Things project and work with Lincoln University on farm robotics.

Everywhere I go the discussion now comes back to how digital data will change farming and the food chain and, critically, that these changes will come faster than most people think.

However, have you ever stopped to think about cyber security as ever larger volumes of your data is exchanged digitally? I was recently told by Alan Johnson, inspirational principal of Newent Community School, that most people don't get it until he demonstrates control over devices in a house using a child's digital toy. Alan, of course, wants his kids to aspire to jobs at Gloucester's Cyber Security Park (linked to GCHQ) by understanding that cyber security is a fast growing profession.

But the question for us is, do farmers have the skills needed to keep farm data safe online? If not, what do we need to do?

Of course technology can help, with new validation systems such as iris recognition, but I suggest we also all need to take responsibility and ensure we know more about encryption, firewalls and regularly update passwords - unless of course you do all of this already.

Welcome to the brave new world of digital agriculture. I truly believe digital agriculture will drive the next wave of farm productivity gains, but just be careful you know who is accessing your data.

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