The co-operative structure was ideally suited to help farmers make the most of the data they collect, according to speakers at the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) annual conference (Thursday Jan 30).
The alternative was to allow multinational companies to take control of the data for their own ends.
George Noble, SAOS project manager, said: “It is time for a farmer friendly approach. We are drowning in data but we are not facing up to the organisational challenge of using it. We are on a hiding to nowhere unless we change our approach.
“Part of the problem is a lack of portability, with data too often locked into platforms. There is also a lack of connectivity in many rural areas and lack of suitable skills among farmers.”
There were however good examples of industry ownership of data, with Scot EID being particularly relevant.
Mr Noble pointed to the way the project had developed as a multi-agency partnership, including input from Scottish Government, markets, abattoirs and farmers.
He said: “It has provided livestock traceability and also paved the way for health improvements, such as the BVD eradication scheme.”
Simper ways of gathering data would also become important, said George Lindop of Smart Rural, a Government funded project aimed at establishing so-called long range, wide area networks in rural areas.
Using shed-mounted or freestanding base stations, individual farms or groups of farms within a 7.5-mile radius could receive data from any number of devices and monitors.
Mr Lindop said: “There is no limit. It could be from soil moisture and temperature sensors, from crop storage monitors or electric fence monitors.
“Vehicle trackers will become increasingly important for measuring the time spent in each field without the need for laboriously recording the details manually. This information then becomes really useful for benchmarking.”
The advantage of using these district schemes based around a farm located base station is they work in ‘not-spots’ where there is no internet connectivity.
Mr Noble also highlighted the need to cooperatively use data to quantify the contribution of farming to mitigating climate change, for example data on soils, forestry, livestock and energy.