Foreign Affairs

Krijn Poppe


As the FarmDigital project enters its last quarter, we realise that by Christmas the project is finished. Many deliverables are now available on this website, others are in their final phase. We have recently also been able to link our FarmDigital experience to European discussions.

FarmDigital taught us a lot on business models, and all the options that a platform has to design its business model. A business model describes the rationale of how an organisation creates, delivers, and captures value in economic, social, cultural or other contexts. In the end it also determines whom to send the invoice for all the costs that are made. In platforms such as FarmDigital, where services are offered to farmers, auditors and food processors or importers at the same time, there are several options for a business model. It is even possible that a branch organisation or government plays a role.

We exchanged insights on data-driven business models in a seminar organised by the European Commission’s European Innovation Partnership Agriculture in Sofia. The seminar - the report is available here: http://ec.europa.eu/eip/agriculture/en/content/eip-agri-seminar-data-revolution-final-report - taught us that the Netherlands is advanced in electronic data interchange via platforms such as AgriPlace and EDI-circle.

But others are active too and try to move to the paperless farm. I recently visited Norway and they have built up a system in dairy farming to exchange documents in digital form. The main bottleneck in the project was the building of trust, they told me. It costs time to build trust with farmers to ensure them that their data are handled well, that they have control over their data and that the system will be available in the future too.

Governance of a platform is therefore an important issue. Good governance can help to build trust, as it makes clear who decides on the future of the platform, which and how investments will be done and who decides on what can be done with the data. Good governance translates into transparent rules that the users of a data platform find attractive and that reduce uncertainty. That is easier said than done, we learn in Farm Digital. One can make the farmers the owner of a compliance platform and give their representatives the right to define the business model and all the governance rules, but then they probably also have to find the money for all the investments needed for realising the platform. At the other end of the spectrum there is the option to provide the service, at least initially, for free and to attract venture capital for the investments, but then the farmer and his data are the product.

In this way, the FarmDigital project contributed to members of the research team insights that they used to brief the European Parliament on issues such as business models, governance and the concept of data ownership in precision farming. That report is available online (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/581892/EPRS_STU(2016)581892_EN.pdf)

In conclusion, I think that FarmDigital has taught us a lot on data ownership, business models, and governance. And the fact that for a successful application such issues are as important as good coding. Mistakes in coding are inevitable, it is often said. They can be repaired quickly with an update. This seems not to be the case for business models and governance. On the contrary: one often gets only one chance to put a product in the market.