Photo courtesy of Carol Deppe/Fertile Valley Seeds.
We Americans value the freedom to do what we want with our property. These days, our freedom of action in regard to what we own is increasingly being eroded and constrained by the expansion of corporate power and the evolving legal dimensions of ownership.
Nowhere has this tendency to limit freedom to operate come into sharper focus than in farming. A farmer may buy a John Deere tractor, but ownership of the copyrighted software—without which the tractor cannot run and cannot be repaired—is retained by the company. According to Deere, the farmer has “an implied lease” to operate the tractor but is prohibited from making any repair or change involving use of the copyrighted code.
For farmers who are planting patented seed, the lease is not even implied, it is literal. Farmers cannot acquire patented corn, soybean, cotton, canola, alfalfa, or sugar beet seed without signing highly restrictive limited use licenses. These agreements permit the farmer to use seed solely for planting a single commercial crop. Any other use—saving, replanting, sharing, transferring, selling, or breeding with the seed—is expressly prohibited. Farmers aren’t buying seed, they are renting a one-time use of a combination of genes that they never own.
The position of the farmer with reference to farm inputs and equipment is much the same as for any of us in regard to Apple or SONY or Microsoft or General Motors. Many of the technologies we buy so avidly and use so ubiquitously are not entirely ours. We implicitly agree to licenses restricting our ability to access and alter embedded code when we open shrink-wrapped software or music CDs, and when we purchase phones, tablets, and automobiles.
Such licenses are supported by the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which governs the ways purchasers can gain access to a product’s software and what they are permitted to do with it. Like previous patent and copyright legislation, the DMCA’s limitations on consumers’ access and use were supposed to spur innovation and prevent piracy. Instead, they have become tools for enhancing market power through the creation of barriers to repair and reuse. The DMCA impedes both creative hacking and the entry of independent diagnostic and service enterprises.
Retention of ownership over embedded code—digital and genetic—is especially problematic for farmers. Without access to software, farmers cannot fix their own equipment or arrange for it to be serviced by anyone but a licensed dealer, at whatever price the vendor dictates. Many farming operations are highly time-critical and the cost of transporting a downed piece of machinery to distant dealers can be large.
Patent and license restrictions on the use of seeds are damaging not only to farmers, but to society as a whole. Prevented from saving and replanting use-restricted seed, farmers have been subjected to a doubling of seed prices since 2007 as the seed industry has rapidly consolidated. The prohibition on saving and sharing seed also undermines and constrains the vibrant and creative “freelance” plant breeders who are a resurgent force in the farm community.
What is to be done? Happily, a wide variety of individuals, advocates, and groups have recognized that a just and sustainable society is likely to be founded more on the principle of sharing rather than on that of exclusion. Organizations such as Creative Commons, the Open Society Foundation, the Free Software Foundation, and the Open Source Initiative are acting to free our technologies from overbearing restrictions.
In 2012, a variety of stakeholders—public sector agricultural scientists, universities as well as freelance plant breeders, small seed company owners, and seed-rights activists—came together to “take back the seed,” or free the seed from corporate dominance. We formed the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) to create a means for ensuring that at least some seed and some of the genes cannot be locked away from use by patents and other restrictive arrangements.
The core strategy for achieving that goal is the dissemination and propagation of the OSSI Pledge along with the seed: “You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this Pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.” This “copyleft” commitment ensures that the four open source seed freedoms are preserved:
The freedom to save or grow seed for replanting or for any other purpose.
The freedom to share, trade, or sell seed to others.
The freedom to trial and study seed and to share or publish information about it.
The freedom to select or adapt the seed, make crosses with it, or use it to breed new lines and varieties.
Seed of some 377 OSSI-Pledged crop varieties, bred by 37 OSSI Plant Breeders, are now available from 48 OSSI Seed Company Partners. Visit the OSSI website or Facebook pageto learn more and to find how you can obtain “freed seed” for your garden!
Powerful interests are at work to enact the sort of future that Thoreau warned us against: that men will become the tools of their tools. Instead, let’s put in place a framework that allows our tools to do the good work to which we can aspire. Free the Seed! Speed the plow!
In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s shocking election victory, a shattered Democratic Party and dazed progressives agree on at least one thing: Democrats must replace Republicans in Congress as quickly as possible. As usual, however, the quest to recapture power is focused on tactical concerns and political optics, and not on the need for the deeper conversation that the 2016 election should have provoked us to have: How can we overcome the structural pathologies of our rigged economy and toxic political culture, and galvanize new movements capable of building functional alternatives?
Since at least the 1980s, Democrats have accepted, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the free-market “progress” narrative—the idea that constant economic growth with minimal government involvement is the only reliable way to advance freedom and improve well-being. Dependent on contributions from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Big Pharma, the Democratic Party remains incapable of recognizing our current political economy as fundamentally extractive and predatory. The party’s commitment to serious change is halfhearted, at best.
While the mainstream resistance to Trump is angry, spirited, and widespread, its implicit agenda, at least on economic matters, is more to restore a bygone liberal normalcy than to forge a new vision for the future. The impressive grassroots resistance to Trump may prove to be an ambiguous gift. While inspiring fierce mobilizations, the politicization of ordinary people, and unity among an otherwise fractious left, it has thus far failed to produce a much-needed paradigm shift in progressive thought.
This search for a new paradigm is crucial as the world grapples with some profound existential questions: Is continued economic growth compatible with efforts to address the urgent dangers of climate change? If not, what does this mean for restructuring capitalism and reorienting our lives? How can we reap the benefits of digital technologies and artificial intelligence without exacerbating unemployment, inequality, and social marginalization? And how shall we deal with the threats posed by global capital and right-wing nationalism to liberal democracy itself?
In the face of such daunting questions, most progressive political conversations still revolve around the detritus churned up by the latest news cycle. Even the most outraged opponents of the Trump administration seem to presume that the existing structures of government, law, and policy are up to the job of delivering much-needed answers. But they aren’t, they haven’t, and they won’t.
Instead of trying to reassemble the broken pieces of the old order, progressives would be better off developing a new vision more suited to our times. There are already a number of projects that dare to imagine what a fairer, eco-friendly, post-growth economy might look like. But these valuable inquiries often remain confined within progressive and intellectual circles. Perhaps more to the point, they are too often treated as thought experiments for someone else to implement. “Action causes more trouble than thought,” the artist Jenny Holzer has noted. What is needed now are bold projects that attempt to demonstrate, rather than merely conceptualize, effective solutions.
The challenges before us are not modest. But it’s now clear that the answers won’t come from Washington. Policy leadership and support at the federal level could certainly help, but bureaucracies are risk-averse, the Democratic Party has little to offer, and the president, needless to say, is clueless. It falls to the rest of us, then, to figure out a way to move forward.
The energy for serious, durable change will originate, as always, on the periphery, far from the guarded sanctums of official power and respectable opinion. Resources may be scarce at the local level, but the potential for innovation is enormous: Here one finds fewer big institutional reputations at stake, a greater openness to risk-taking, and an abundance of grassroots imagination and enthusiasm.
Beyond the Beltway’s gaze, the seeds of a new social economy are being germinated in neighborhoods and farmers’ fields, in community initiatives and on digital platforms. A variety of experimental projects, innovative organizations, and social movements are developing new types of local provisioning and self-governance systems. Aspiring to much more than another wave of incremental reform, most of these actors deliberately bypass conventional politics and policy. In piecemeal fashion, they unabashedly seek to develop the DNA for new types of postcapitalist social and economic institutions.
The “commons sector,” as I call this bricolage of projects and movements, is a world of DIY experimentation and open-source ethics that holds itself together not through coercion or profiteering but through social collaboration, resourceful creativity, and sweat equity, often with the help of digital platforms. Its fruits can be seen in cooperatives, locally rooted food systems, alternative currencies, community land trusts, and much else.
While these insurgent projects are fragmentary and do not constitute a movement in the traditional sense, they tend to share basic values and goals: production for household needs, not market profit; decision-making that is bottom-up, consensual, and decentralized; and stewardship of shared wealth for the long term. They reject the standard ideals of economic development and a return on shareholder investment, emphasizing instead community self-determination and the mutualization of benefits.
Not surprisingly, the Washington cognoscenti have evinced scant interest in these emerging forms of social economy and their political potential. As the 2016 campaigns showed, mainstream politicians can barely discuss climate change intelligently, let alone imagine a post-fossil-fuel economy (as the climate-justice and transition-towns movements do) or apply deep ecological principles and wisdom traditions to politics (as Native Americans have done at Standing Rock). They are similarly oblivious to the hacktivists developing community-driven alternatives to Uber and Airbnb, and to the work of the social-and-solidarity-economy (SSE) movement to build multi-stakeholder cooperatives for social services.
With greater equity stakes and opportunities for self-governance, people are remarkably eager to contribute to their communities, whether local or digital. They welcome an escape from consumerism, exploitative markets, and remote bureaucracies. These sorts of local and regional experiments not only advance effective structural solutions at a time when national politics is dysfunctional; they also provide meaningful ways for ordinary people to become agents of change themselves.
Almost 50 years ago, Fannie Lou Hamer came up with a shrewd strategy for dealing with community disempowerment—in her case, the vestiges of the plantation system and exploitative white-owned businesses. The civil-rights leader purchased hundreds of acres of Mississippi Delta farmland so that poor blacks could grow their own food. “When you’ve got 400 quarts of greens and gumbo soup for the winter, nobody can push you around or tell you what to say or do,” Hamer noted.
This is roughly the same strategy that must be pursued today. Relocalizing and decommodifying production and services represents a compelling strategy for the small cities, towns, and rural areas that have been ruthlessly hollowed out by big-box stores, online retailers, automation, big agriculture, and outsourcing.
In fact, that’s just what the local-food movement has done over the past few decades. Faced with a long list of agribusiness horrors—pesticides, processed foods, monoculture farming, seed monopolies, a loss of biodiversity, and more—countless champions of localism retrenched to create a semi-autonomous parallel economy on their own terms: community-oriented, fair-minded, humane, and ecologically respectful. Today, there are more than 1,650 community-supported agriculture (CSA) projects and more than 8,000 local farmers’ markets across the country. Organic farming is a robust market sector, and agroecology and permaculture are pointing the way to eco-friendly approaches.
In California, the Food Commons Fresno project is one of the most ambitious regional efforts to reimagine the food system from farm to plate. Even though Fresno is located in the heart of prime agriculture lands, the region has been ecologically abused for decades and is a food desert for half a million low-income residents and farm workers. To develop systemic solutions, the Food Commons has established a network of community-owned trusts that bring together landowners, farmers, food processors, distributors, retailers, and workers to support a shared mission: high-quality, safe, locally grown food that everyone can afford.
Instead of siphoning away profits to investors, the Food Commons mutualizes financial surpluses on a system-wide scale, reducing market pressures to deplete the soil, exploit farm workers, degrade food quality, and raise prices. This approach, writes the social thinker John Thackara, “marks a radical shift from a narrow focus on the production of food on its own, towards a whole-system approach in which the interests of farm communities and local people, the land, watersheds and biodiversity are all considered together.”
Another impressive innovation in regional self-determination is the BerkShares currency, launched in 2006 by the Schumacher Center for a New Economics (where I work) in the largely rural Berkshires of western Massachusetts. The goal is to strengthen the local economy and community life by reengineering the flow of money. Anyone can exchange $100 in US currency for $105 worth of BerkShares at any of four banks with a total of 16 branches throughout Berkshire County, and then spend them at 400 participating businesses. Consumers get a 5 percent bump in purchasing power from this buy-local strategy while boosting the regional economy and strengthening the region’s identity. The BerkShares story is part of a global trend in which dozens of localities worldwide are deploying their own currencies to reclaim some measure of control from hedge funds and banks.
New-economy renegades are not shy about engaging with the policy world, but many regard it as a rigged game that won’t yield the transformations needed. In the meantime, they ask, why not grow our own greens and make our own gumbo soup? As in Fannie Lou Hamer’s day, the focus should be on securing tangible results and greater leverage for change.
Relocalization strategies can also help reinvigorate democratic self-governance. Just as the rise of public-interest organizations in the 1970s propelled far-reaching changes, today our economic future is taking shape in new organizational forms. Innovative cooperative structures, pool-and-share projects, self-managed digital platforms, and collaborative global networks are changing the topography for pursuing social change.
One of the most notable new forms may be the platform cooperative, a socially constructive alternative to Silicon Valley start-ups, which famously like to “move fast and break things.” Gig-economy companies rely on heaps of capital, proprietary algorithms, and political muscle to control new markets that leapfrog over government standards for public safety, fair labor, and consumer protection. Platform co-ops are attempting to write a different story: Instead of using networking technologies to extract money from communities for the benefit of investors and speculators, platform co-ops work with communities, workers, and consumers to share the gains.
These dynamics play out at Stocksy United, a global co-op of photographers that sells royalty-free stock photos and video, and on service-swapping platforms like TimeBanks, which uses a currency of hours contributed to helping people meet needs and build circles of mutual support. Another vanguard player is Enspiral, a New Zealand–based cooperative that developed the popular Loomio platform for online deliberation and decision-making. (For more on platform co-ops, see The Internet of Ownership)
When community commitment and digital platforms come together, they often give rise to “cosmo-local” production, as Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation calls it. This is a new model of manufacturing that allows “light” nonproprietary knowledge and design to be collaboratively produced on a global scale, while enabling “heavy” physical things to be produced locally at minimal cost. This fledgling model could greatly reduce carbon emissions and transport costs while building local economic capacity.
The rudiments of cosmo-local production are evident at fab labs (short for “fabrication laboratories”) and so-called hackerspaces—participatory communities of socially minded artists, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and techies who use computer-assisted tools to produce vanguard industrial designs. This production approach has been dubbed “SLOC”—small and local, but open and connected—a framework that scrambles the standard understanding of the economy as controlled by nation-states and corporations. SLOC integrates the local and transnational into a remarkably creative provisioning sector—commons-based peer production—that is already developing farm equipment (Farm Hack, Open Source Ecology), furniture (Open Desk), houses (WikiHouse), animated videos (Blender Institute), and cars (Wikispeed).
To conventional policy minds, altering the micro-dynamics of organizations may seem irrelevant to the task of making broadscale social change. But transforming organizational systems and cultures on a small scale may be one of the most effective ways to bring about macro-change. Just as the microprocessor and the telecommunications network changed the inner dynamics of business, eventually transforming the global economy itself, the rise of self-organized governance and networked collaboration is opening up strategic opportunities on a larger scale.
Attempting to move beyond neoliberal capitalism may sound naive. But over the past two decades, some remarkable progress has already been made. Besides a range of relocalization strategies, a new sector of commons-based peer production has revolutionized software development, scientific research, academic publishing, education, and other fields by making their outputs legally and technically shareable. In the halls of government, however, policy-makers and even progressives show little interest in the profound political and economic implications of free and open-source software, Creative Commons licenses, citizen science, data commons, open educational resources, and open design and hardware.
Most of these and other movements are seen as too small, local, unorthodox, or little-known to be consequential. They don’t swing elections. Their participants tend to eschew politics and policy, and often don’t regard their work as part of a unified movement. They see themselves as part of a pulsating pluriverse of autonomous projects, each working diligently in its own separate sphere.
Counterintuitively, this pluriverse may fuel a true progressive revival. “The next big thing will be a lot of small things,” the designer Thomas Lommée predicted recently, neatly capturing the structural logic of postcapitalist movements and the generativity of the Internet.
Acting on this insight calls for a new mind-set. Greater attention should be paid to places and players on distributed networks. The swarms of self-selected individuals and projects should be recognized as serious actors that can meet real needs in new ways. We also need to acknowledge the limits of markets and centralized bureaucracies, which are so often hell-bent on asserting total control, engineering dependencies, and eliminating the space for social deliberation and genuine human agency.
By enabling self-organized groups to bypass large institutions and formal systems of authority, and to set their own terms for establishing social trust and legitimacy, we enter the headwaters of a new kind of politics, one that is more accountable, decentralized, and human-scale. The substantive, local, and practical move to the fore, challenging the highly consolidated power structures and ideological posturing that have turned our national politics into a charade.
But, skeptics ask, can these countless small, irregular initiatives scale up? The question carries the false premise that some form of centralized management or hierarchical control is needed. As a creature of open networks and sharing, the new social economy will not be directed by a political headquarters or a federal program. That kind of control would kill it.
The participatory local economy will expand only by engaging a diverse base of American pragmatists. That just might be possible, since it offers something for everyone. As my colleague Silke Helfrich puts it: “Conservatives like the tendency of commons to promote responsibility and community; liberals are pleased with the focus on equality and basic social entitlement; libertarians like the emphasis on individual initiative; and leftists like the idea of limiting the scope of the market.”
To be sure, a constructive rapprochement with state power will have to be negotiated at some point, and in the meantime supportive laws and infrastructures would certainly help. But the success of the commons sector will hinge on the independent vitality of its projects, the integrity of its bottom-up participation, and the results it produces.
Emulation and federation—these are the means by which a new participatory sector will expand. The point is to create the conditions for grassroots initiatives to self-organize and grow. It helps to recall that the New Deal didn’t spring fully grown from the brain of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but emerged over time as the policy’s many precursors nurtured brave experiments for years. We need to plant a field of new seeds today if we are going to have anything to harvest in the years to come.
In defense of the neoliberal revolution in the 1980s, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously thundered a phrase that is often shortened to its acronym, TINA: “There is no alternative!” The result has been nearly 40 years of privatization, deregulation, austerity, and corporate governance, now reaching their farcical, destructive extremes. For those seeking to overcome this awful legacy, along with the oxymoron of “democratic capitalism,” it is time for a rejoinder: “There are plenty of alternatives!” The only question is whether the Democratic Party and mainstream progressives have any use for them.
The P2P Foundation’s Michel Bauwens interviews Julien Reynier and Fabrice Clerc from L’Atelier Paysan
L’Atelier Paysan is a French cooperative that works with farmers to design machines and buildings adapted to the specific practices of small farm agroecology. In addition to distributing free plans on its website, L’Atelier Paysan organizes winter self-help training sessions, during which farmers train in metalworking and build tools which they can then use on their own farms. L’Atelier Paysan works to develop the technological sovereignty of farmers by helping them to become more autonomous through learning and regain knowledge and skills.
In market gardening, crops are grown on beds formed from long strips of land. Generally, little or no attention is paid to ground compaction by tractor wheels. In subsequent years, farmers will then try to grow on these tracks. The idea of permanent, “ridged” beds is to form perennial growing beds so the tractor wheels always run in the same place. Tools are needed to form these ridged beds, which allow crops to have superior moisture retention and drainage, and to warm up better in the sun.
Michel Bauwens: What was the origin of L’Atelier Paysan project?
Julien and Fabrice: The project was born in 2009 after a meeting between Joseph Templier, an organic market gardener from GAEC “Les Jardins du Temple” in Isère (south-eastern France, near the Alps), and Fabrice Clerc, then a technician with ADABio, the local organic agriculture development association. ADABio was created in 1984 to help improve practices, find resources, and share knowledge, among other things.
Joseph and his colleagues used tools on the farm that are very relevant to the soil, especially adapted to an innovative cultural technique called “permanent beds”. Many young farmers came to train in the techniques, the system and the organization of the “Jardins du Temple” and then to practice them on their own farms and projects. At the same time, Fabrice went to many farms in the Rhone Alps to collect and disseminate knowledge and agrarian know-how. Fabrice and Joseph’s idea was to widely publicise the innovative tools used on this farm, which were crafted and assembled from recovered materials and refurbished old tools. Some standardization was necessary first, in order to be able to publish plans for building the tools from parts and accessories that can be found at any hardware store.
Your approach seems very pragmatic. Yet when I read through your website, it is also a very thoughtful approach (philosophical and political). How did you move from one approach to another?
We have just put into words what is happening. A number of farmers in the Alps independently designed and built their own machines, adapted to their own needs. We have gathered and compiled all this into a guide. In the process of constructing this guide, it seemed useful to formalise our approach: first, to take an inventory of innovations on the ground, then to answer the question “what is the meaning of all this?” Why all these bottom-up innovations, which were traditionally outsourced to the equipment manufacturing industry. So, why was the farming world excluded from the design process? Whereas the farmer and the artisan of the village once built the machines needed, now farmers have disappeared from the chain of innovation.
It is not only in the agricultural sector that this has happened: it’s possible to build bridges with changes in other areas such as shared self-build community workshops, and to think about Do It Yourself from the viewpoint of human/social (re)construction. For example, in Grenoble, there are about ten woodworking workshops with available machines and tools, and self-renovation housing initiatives. They are important factors for emancipation, inclusion and social reintegration. For the last 6 or 7 years, we have been thinking a lot about these issues. We don’t want to just make machines. It is a total experience that consists of thinking about daily life and of the political approach it requires.
Current political debate reflects a very strong social demand on the ground. The guide to self-construction is the first book we published in 2012. This is the sum of the first field census of sixteen machines adapted to organic market gardening. These machines, which are low tech (in construction and design) call for a lot of craft know-how. They do not suffer in comparison with high-tech machines. Our machines are three to four times cheaper for an efficiency equal or superior to those of the trade. Why is this search for autonomy not more valued? This is a question of the technological sovereignty of farmers. It is something that is coming back into fashion, taken up by a militant farming community.
The word “farmer” was, until the 1980s, a word used to denigrate. Today, on the contrary, it means someone who is not only a cultivator of agricultural produce but part of a terroir, connected to an ecosystem and a social life. The word “farmer” relates to the invention of a specialized, segmented profession. Today they are even called “producer”, “operator”, or “Chief Operating Officer”. The logic of industrialists and economists invades agriculture.
What are the current project developments?
The approach is open to the whole field of small and organic farming on a human scale. It started around organic market gardening, but now it is open to all sectors: arboriculture, breeding, viticulture… For example, we can include the re-design of livestock buildings and storage. For market gardeners who want to add some poultry farming to their production, we are also working on the issue of mobile buildings.
Depending on the demands of the farmers’ groups on the ground, our resource platform will respond to co-design the tools required for the specific practices of small and organic farmers. We want these tools to be used by conventional farmers to help them adopt a more autonomous and economical approach. It is becoming increasingly credible because it is intended to be a resource available to all farmers. Most of our users are already going through this process, but the technical principles developed, aim to ensure that conventional farmers are no longer frightened by the demanding, know-how-based, techniques of small farm agroecology.
The project started in 2009 at ADABio, a local association of organic producers, but very quickly grew to such a large scale that in 2011 a transitional association was created and then converted into a cooperative in 2014: L’Atelier Paysan. In this human adventure, meetings played a very important part. At each meeting, we took sideways steps, then small jumps and then big jumps. Today we are 11 permanent staff, quite a lot of seasonal staff as well as those who volunteer as a civic service. Everyone comes as who they are and our approach is closely linked to what each person brings. We are very attentive to the requests that come to us, and we have more and more!
What is your business model?
We operate 65% through self-financing and 35% from public funding. In our view, these are normal contributions to our effort to produce and disseminate common goods. We believe that we are in the public interest and that communities need to be involved. Unfortunately, with the reactionary right-wing coming to power in many places, this sort of support has been drastically reduced.
However, we are relatively more secure than other structures, sometimes subsidized at 80%. The 65% self-financing comes from our self-build training activity. In France there are joint vocational training funds that can cover the cost of training. We also profit from a margin on group orders for internships.
We will raise funds more and more from the public: if we want to change the agriculture / food model, the whole of society is involved. That’s why we have set up a partnership with a Citoyens Solidaire endowment fund to collect donations and the associated tax . It is a mechanism that allows people to choose where their taxes are going. We want to make citizens aware of our work so that they can contribute to the economic independence of L’Atelier Paysan.
What is your relationship with other farmer or social movements?
L’Atelier Paysan is positioned as one of the actors in the alternative food project, an additional tool in the social and solidarity-based agricultural economy. As actors of this arena, we naturally wanted to associate ourselves with those that represent the agricultural environment, to connect, so that they might disseminate our information, our technical material and to bring together our different users. Moreover, the question of agricultural machinery was very seldom dealt with by the existing organisations.
Also, we have had an awareness-raising activity for a year now, through the InPACTassociation, which brings together about ten associations at the national level. We have been the standard-bearers for the technological sovereignty of farmers in this context, in particular to document and expose, on the one hand, the over-sizing of farming equipment production tool and, on the other hand, the publicly funded introduction of robotics and digital technology supported by the techno-scientific community.
At the international level, we are in the Via Campesina network. We participated in the 2nd Nyéléni forum on food sovereignty (in October 2016 in Romania) where we talked about agricultural equipment, saying that there can be no food independence without farmers’ technological sovereignty.
At the forum we met with Spaniards, Romanians, Austrians, Czechs and Hungarians, who were very interested in questions around farming equipment. We staged an exhibition of drawings and fact sheets that really appealed to people. It was not especially a field of exploration for these activists, and there, something happened. No one in Europe has yet set up a platform such as L’Atelier Paysan, which provides ways to document and disseminate knowledge (data sheets, self-construction training …).
We went to Quebec in January 2014 to organize the first self-build training in North America, with the CAPÉ (Coopérative d’Agriculteurs de Proximlité Écologique) and l’EPSH (École professionnelle de Saint-Hyacinthe ), around the vibroplanche (for cultivating permanent “ridged” beds). And now, they independently create self-build courses from the shared tools on our website.
In the United States, we are connected with Farm Hack, incubated and launched by Greenhorns, which itself came from a young-farmer’s coalition, the NYFC (National Young Farmers Coalition). They share tips on adapting machinery via hackathons and open-hacking camps. Though they have not yet organized any training.
We also have discussions with the Land Workers Alliance (a member of Via Campesina) in England. Two years ago they organized the first Farmhack event which we attended to present our work.
Here, a farmer can come for training and can build their own tools: it doesn’t cost much thanks to our famous training funds and group-buying of materials and accessories. Working with metal, tool use (a kind of after-sales service), sharing (using the machine and adapting it to their context in the form of versioning); this is the whole methodology that one wants to share. There is a very specific context in France, which means that a structure like ours can still rely on a large amount of public aid and shared professional funds to pay for the internships (this is not the case in the USA, for example, which has to rely on private funds).
In general, our approach is total, that is what is exciting in this adventure. We are giving ourselves the means to advance this process, between ourselves and with other actors. From a practical point of view, to reach one person is good, but to reach many takes us much further. We also consider political and economic issues, and what are the factors for acceleration and efficiency. The question of agricultural machinery is a question of political and scientific thought. On the whole, on a whole bunch of questions, there is no science-based production. On April 5th we are organizing a seminar on technological sovereignty: we have struggled to find people who have admitted incompetence. These are questions they have never faced.
What do you think of the “Commons” as a political concept?
We would like to be further advanced on this issue of the Commons. We assume that the issue of food, like drinking water, the air we breathe and biodiversity, are essential to protect. In turn, the means to achieve it (know-how, agricultural land, communal areas, techniques…) must by definition be common, since this is the survival of our species. All the know-how and the knowledge of farmers did not come ex nihilo [from nothing. Ed]: they come from sharing, putting into a common pot, shared innovation and openness. We see as a scandal any attempt to expropriate technological solutions so that they can be part of another feed-source for personal profit. This is an issue that we are exploring and trying to pay attention to.
We are alert to the legal regimes related to this issue of the Commons, to open licenses and to what could best reflect this willingness to share knowledge through which we enrich our community of users. If we use Creative Commons, we are always looking for the right license that best expresses this willingness to share.
The starting material of our work are the tools developed by Joseph: he participated very much in the emergence of these communities. But he didn’t only tinker with machines, he also thought of them with regard to a working group of farmers who wanted to adopt the innovative cultural techniques of permanent beds. His machines are designed in a collective. It is therefore the result of a whole lot of visits and picking up of knowledge and know-how from his peers. He had the talent and the energy to imagine and manufacture these machines. It is his way of contributing, like other activists.
How do you see social change? The political atmosphere is not very positive for the change we want. Do you imagine that you work in a “hostile environment”? Is there a political side to your work?
There is the question of public education. The first step of the document on the technological sovereignty of farmers will be to amalgamate the ideas of the users, the political partners, etc. Some participants in our training events do not take long to take the ideas and techniques and disseminate them.
We are also starting to have quite a lot of feedback from researchers / thinkers, who congratulate us for imagining this new way of thinking. This is our goal because we are not going to be able to produce everything: scientific studies, political thinking … What partnerships can be set up to make common the commonalities of these subjects? Additional advocates can be found at meetings. We do not have a strategy. There is nothing stronger than a groundswell to spread our way of doing things. The tidal wave will be less important, there will be no media buzz, no pretty teaser with a background of country music, but this is much more powerful. When people have experienced their ability for self-determination, there is a kind of arriving without the possibility of backtracking.
Are there projects similar to yours but which you criticize and if so, why?
We are quite distinct from the sort of ideas promoted by the likes of Open Source Ecology in the US with a beautiful trailer, to us that does not seem grounded in reality. None of the machines actually work. It is a process of innovation that comes from not involving real users. They are engineers who imagine things a bit on their own.
We are also distancing ourselves from Fablabs, which seem to be an incubator for start-ups rather than for public education. For us, a Fablab must be a place of public education and not of low-cost technological experimentation for the industry.
We are in Grenoble, the cradle of nanotechnology. Here, a Fablab is funded by industry and advanced technology. So there is Fablab after Fablab (woodworking, pedal-powered machines…), and they are generally talking about something other than the quality of what is produced. It takes funding to run a Fablab. In 2013, those who won the call for projects from the Ministry of the Digital Economy are not those who provide public education. How do we finance a general interest?
More broadly, if by Fablab we mean laboratories of open innovation and shared human resources, there are tens of thousands in France. There are ecocentres, Third-Places, associations related to self-build, others that repair bicycles, social innovation, human and economic. They are not necessarily in the high-tech field and are less publicized, but they are working on the necessary questions.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? How do you think the world will be in which you will evolve? Do you project yourself into the “global arena” and if yes / no, why and how?
The observation is that today, in January, we do not know much about where we will be at the end of December. This has been true since the beginning of the adventure. We are in an exploratory phase, and it is very difficult to know where we will be in 3 years. After 5 years we have already exceeded our dreams of 3 or 4 years ago! Our collective dynamics explode, economically we will have to find more avenues because humanly we will not be able to go much further. We refuse work every day! One of the interesting tracks in a time-scale of 3 or 4 years is to set up our own training centre on a farm with a workshop training centre suited to our needs, a logistics platform, a classroom, offices, garages, and accommodation. Why a farm? To have our feet on the ground, a real support for our experimentation and a working tool to match our needs. Today we operate within our means, but we have ways to improve our work.
In the years to come, beyond the concerts at Rock à la Meuleuse (rock on the grinder) which we organized during our Rencontres in June 2016, we have plans to explore an illustration of our work through contemporary art.
Among the perspectives, we imagine a European network centred on technological sovereignty. In the world of development and international cooperation associations, this idea has been around since the 1970s, based on appropriate technologies: reclaiming ourselves, being more sociable, connecting and building links throughout Europe so that there are more exchanges between our different countries.
Our adventure is not without effort. Part of what helps us keep going is that we don’t miss out on poetry, pleasure and being as we are. We thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, explore the paths and horizons that are available to us.
One of the objectives for which we believe we are on the right track is the following: while in France local development has always been specialized, today things are actually de-compartmentalized. If we think about things more “globally”, we will participate in developing something richer, more powerful and sustainable. What makes us strong is that we control the whole chain: self-building at the political and collective level.
We are full of energy: our desire is to testify that the fields we are exploring with the methodologies we use, can be applied to a whole bunch of other things.
All images by L’Atelier Paysan. Check out the full photo essay here.
Without hardware, there is no science. Instruments, reagents, computers, and lab equipment are the platforms for producing systematic knowledge. Innovations from lenses to atomic force microscopes to DNA sequencers to particle accelerators have opened up new fields of knowledge with huge potential impacts for science and society. However, participants in the Gathering for Open Science Hardware, currently taking place at the Innovation Centre, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, argue that limited access to scientific tools impedes the progress and reach of science. Black-box scientific tools block creativity and customization through high mark-ups and proprietary designs, compounded by intellectual property restrictions. Open Science Hardware addresses part of this problem by sharing designs, instructions for building, and protocols openly, for anyone to reuse.
The Gathering for Open Science Hardware (GOSH) would like to thank the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for its ongoing support. The open science hardware movement and examples
There is a growing movement for open science hardware with successful projects, communities and companies setting up across the world that increase access to many groups of people and GOSH 2017 aimed to represent as many points as possible across the multidimensional open science hardware space. Sensors for environmental monitoring developed by Public Lab combine DIY sensing and citizen science within a broader theme of environmental justice, engineers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva want to share open designs to increase the reach of their technology and its benefits to society, but also pragmatically to avoid vendor lock-in, the deep sea exploration vehicle OpenROV arose from a drive to make research equipment cheaper but led to a range of projects making oceanography available for everyone: from communities in Papua New Guinea to US high school students.
Working with communities is a key feature of many open science hardware initiatives: grassroots networks and collectives like Hackteria publish open designs for microscopes and lab equipment and runs workshops around the world from Tokyo to Yogyakarta to Nairobi combining bio-art, traditional biotechnologies such as fermentation and DIYbio. Interspecifics.cc from Mexico are an art collective who experiment in the intersection of art and science, for example in the use of sound to understand the bioelectrical activity of different bacterial consortiums, plants, slime molds and humans using DIY and custom-made sets of hardware.
Working with communities requires a strong and intentional approach to equity and ethics. Max Liboiron directs the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), a feminist marine science and technology laboratory that specializes in citizen science and grassroots environmental monitoring of plastic pollution. Her talk at GOSH 2017 emphasised the need to consider equity in working with communities and the failure of ‘universal’ scientific protocols to consider local factors, from the fact that cost and language are significant barriers to engagement of local and indigenous people through to methods of sifting sand to count plastic microparticles being impractical in frozen northern Canada.
Open science hardware also has huge potential for education, another key theme for GOSH 2017. Participants such as Backyard Brains aim to use open hardware to teach neuroscience while Karkhana is designing learning experiences for future innovators in Nepal and many other initiatives across the world are harnessing kits and manufacturing. The Latin American network TECNOx is seeking to bring interdisciplinary groups of students together to tackle Latin American problems using open technologies and the 2017 round includes over forty teams from across the region.
From a manifesto to a roadmap
GOSH 2016 was held at CERN in Geneva and brought together community convenors for the first international and interdisciplinary conference focused on Open Science Hardware. The shared values and passion for change of the diverse group of participants was articulated in the GOSH Manifesto, which has since been signed by over 240 signatories and translated into six languages. Online tools like the GOSH Forum or the Journal of Open Hardware arose after the conference to help connect this international movement.
GOSH 2017 moved to Chile with strong encouragement from the community to hold the meeting outside of the US and Europe in an area which has a clear need for increased access to tools and many local initiatives that may be under-recognised outside of the region. We drew over a third of our 90 participants from Latin America and arranged visits to local projects and maker spaces, with 30 countries represented in total and attendees ranging from physicists, biologists, artists, community organisers, engineers, social scientists, musicians, IP lawyers, educators to curators.
The goal of GOSH 2017 is to bring the spirit of the GOSH Manifesto to life. Discussions included different topics such as: scaling up open hardware production, standards for safety and quality, the impact of open science hardware in developing countries, inclusivity and diversity, the embedded politics of scientific tools, and interactions between art and science. GOSH 2017 will culminate in drawing together outcomes of discussion to collaboratively author a roadmap outlining actions required for open science hardware to become ubiquitous by 2025.
Using the roadmap, the GOSH community intends to: change the norms within established, institutional science so researchers openly share knowledge and technology; so research can happen in or out of the academy, in or out of the lab, in or out of commercial spaces; and so enable science to take place where it would not usually happen.
Farm Hack, in partnership with Chris Callahan from UVM and with funding from USDA NE-SARE have recently completed an overhaul of their tool pages. This work was part of a project aimed at delivering an improved collective innovation, distribution & education, and impact assessment platform for sustainable farm and food innovations such as those accomplished in SARE projects.Shiny New Tool Library at Farmhack.org
As we approach the completion of our SARE project implementation, we have conducted surveys of past SARE PI’s and have just launched a re-designed Tools section of the website. The new version is intended to make both documenting tools and finding the tool you are looking for easier and more effective.
New Tool Section Features:
Smartphone and tablet friendly
Improved Tool Search functionalities
Easier documentation process
New “like” and “I have built this” buttons on tool pages
New help feature for user troubleshooting
We’ll be hosting a community webinar on two dates to provide a live walk-through of the new Tools Section to help familiarize users with the new features and get your feedback. We hope you can join us for one of them. These webinars are free. No registration is required. There will be time for Q&A. The sessions will be recorded and posted on Farm Hack.
As you might remember, Farm Hack in partnership with Chris Callahan, Agricultural Engineer at University of Vermont, received a SARE grant in summer of 2015 to improve the Farm Hack platform for all users, and specifically for the documentation of SARE-funded tool ideas. Hundreds of really interesting design ideas are funded and documented on the SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) website each year, but the lengthy and somewhat hard to navigate pdf database does not facilitate sharing of designs very easily. That’s where the Farm Hack platform came in!
To upgrade the Farm Hack website, we surveyed SARE principal investigators as well as Farm Hack users to glean insight into what features we should improve to add on. In partnership with our software engineer partners we focused on making our growing tool database more easily searchable, and put a lot of work into the tool documentation page to make the process easier and more accessible, and make the resulting tool page more searchable and useful to community members. We also added an “ask an admin” pop up feature to encourage questions and feedback.
We are very excited about this next iteration of the Farm Hack platform, and hope it helps move our community towards further sharing and collaboration of useful, well-designed open source farm technology and tools.
We want your two cents on the site updates! Feel free to leave a comment on this blog post to start the conversation.
Farmer, tool hacker, organizer, and self styled agricultural anthropologist (and, we’re proud to say, a GH blog editor) Samuel Oslund takes us on a journey into les Rencontres de l’Atelier Paysan. Les Rencontres is a yearly gathering of farmers from across France, hosted by our French farm hacking heroes l’Atelier Paysan (roughly The Peasant’s/agrarian Workshop). The event is a hands on skill sharing celebration, filled with food, good wine, and some fairly strange music.
Beyond throwing memorable shin digs, the farmer-run organization works with agrarians across France designing and developing user based, co-designed tools and implements. All of their open-source plans are available online and in a beautifully produced manual. Among other things, L’Atelier Paysan is creating a unique business model that fosters collaboration and skill sharing.
What practices and places can we rely on and strengthen in the years to come?
What might be called an “alternative” economy in the United States is known globally as the solidarity economy. The solidarity economy identifies and unites grassroots practices like lending circles, credit unions, worker cooperatives, community safety initiatives, community media stations, and community land trusts to form a powerful base of political power. The concept emerged in the global South (as economia solidária*) and is now gaining support in the United States under many names, including the community economy, the peace economy, the workers’ economy, the social economy, the new economy, the circular economy, the regenerative economy, the local economy, and the cooperative economy.
As many people finally wake up to the reality that white supremacy threatens public health on a daily basis, a wide range of people are educating themselves, assertively dismantling structures of oppression in organizations, and learning to follow the lead of black and brown artists and organizers who have been under siege for centuries and who have always been leaders in the solidarity economy. For more information about the solidarity economy, please visit: http://www.communityeconomies.org/Home and http://solidaritynyc.org
Marco Arruda of the Brazilian Solidarity Economy Network stated at the World Social Forum in 2004: “A solidarity economy does not arise from thinkers or ideas; it is the outcome of the concrete historical struggle of the human being to live and to develop him/herself as an individual and a collective… innovative practices at the micro level can only be viable and structurally effective for social change if they interweave with one another to form always-broader collaborative networks and solidarity chains of production-finance-distribution-consumption-education-communication.”
The Patriot Weeder Project aims to meet the demand from small organic farms for affordable, precise, and reliable weeding equipment. Funds from this campaign will be used to build and test prototypes, and produce open source plans for the Patriot Weeder: An effective, versatile, and cheap weeding system adaptable to a wide range of farm sizes, soil types, and crops. Most current farming technology is geared toward industrial scale production, leaving small-scale farms to equip their operations with a mix of obsolete, repurposed and invented tools. The ultimate goal is to make open source plans for the Patriot Weeder freely available for farmers and local fabricators on Farmhack.org, a hub for open source solutions to support small farmers and the local food movement. At Farmhack.org you can already find plans for our bicycle-powered thresher , fanning mill, and Dehuller/Flour Mill (made possible by a SARE Grant) .
We embark on the Patriot Weeder Project in the spirit of Farmhack, namely in an attempt to simultaneously support both our emerging local farming sector and a revitalized local manufacturing movement. We can do this by getting the right tools into the hands of farmers at the right price, while at the same time developing a viable, decentralized, open-source, small scale model of local artisanship.
When my brother, an organic farmer, first asked me to build a weeding tool, I imagined he meant improving on the many available designs already in production. I soon learned there are few to no available designs in the US. There are old machines, like the Allis Chalmers G (ended in 1955) and the Farmall (built until 1980), but there are fewer of these antiques each year. There are companies making either replica parts for the old machines or specialized weeding machines for certain applications (eg, tine weeders). But it is nigh on impossible to find a US-made mechanical weeding system that is adaptable to many crops, farms of different sizes, and different soil conditions. In Europe such systems exist. However, they are expensive ($4K-50K) and they use proprietary shapes and sizes that make tool changing, universality, maintenance, and technical support a hassle.
Why was the mechanical weeder discontinued in the US?
Herbicides replaced machines for weeding. Now public awareness of the problems with herbicides creates an opportunity for small farms to perfect mechanical cultivation (weeding) and lead the way back to a regional food system based on locally produced food and tools, and ecologically sound methods.
What features will a weeder for everyone have?
First, the design and plans will be open source so everyone can use and improve the plans. Second, the design will be based on regular steel stock sizes, so any shop or farm can build the weeder with simple metal fabrication tools. Third, the design will scale up for use with large tractors and scale down for use with small tractors, bike powered tractors, and pushed wheel hoes. Additionally, the tool bar for the weeder will have an option for mounting on the three point hitch of a tractor and being pulled behind, allowing some farms to use one tractor for both plowing and cultivation.
The Patriot Weeder Project can do all this, but can’t do it unless you help. If we nurture these seedlings of sustainable agriculture, they will grow into a healthy network from which we’ll harvest the fruits of local food security, nutrition, and community empowerment. Please donate if you can, or share with your friends!
Also seeking farmer input! Contact Lu through the GoFundMe page.
Three Parts to the Project:
Part 1: A parallelogram row unit (pictured above) which clips on to a horizontal tool bar and carries a gauge wheel and a shank-mounted cultivating shoe or other type of weeder. The parallelogram row unit can be built light for use on a manually pushed cart or culticyle, or it can be built heavy for a large tractor. Many row units can ride on a single tool bar for cultivating more rows at once. Everything is adjustable with a single bolt sliding arrangement, so the row units can be tuned for crop height, cultivation depth, row spacing, etc.
Part 2: Homemade cultivating shoes and spring shanks. So that local shops can make cultivating tools to farmer’s specifications.
Part 3: The tool bar on to which the parallelogram row units mount can be belly mounted (such as a G, Cub, 140), but many farms do not have a tractor with a belly mounted tool bar. In order to make the parallel row units suitable for pulling behind a regular tractor, there needs to be a three point hitch tool bar that steers from behind the tractor. This requires a second person seated behind the cultivator in a “sulky” seat. For many small farms, the cost of a second person is worth it to save the hassle of owning a second tractor (especially an antique).
How will the money be spent?
For the first phase of this project, $1000 dollars will be devoted to materials: $300 for the parallelogram row units, $100 for the cultivating shoes and shanks, and $600 for the three point hitch steering tool bar. Each of these three tasks will also get $1000 of labor (One week of shop time). The goal of this half of the first phase is to get several prototypes in to the fields of two or three different farms by the start of the 2017 weed season. The remaining funds will go toward field testing (with video camera) ($2000), repairs and changes ($1000 shop time), and materials for repairs and changes ($500)
In Fall of 2017 I plan to seek additional funding to complete the documentation of the project and produce open source plans and videos to upload to Farmhack.
Farmers will soon have better access and control of their data as well as seamless sharing of information between hardware and software systems. That’s thanks to the work of four groups that are improving farmers’ data control, privacy and interoperability.
That progress has been a long time coming, says Indiana farmer Aaron Ault. In addition to full-time farming, he’s a senior computer research engineer at Purdue University, where he leads the Open Ag Data Alliance.
Compared to other industries, agriculture has lagged in having open-source software that’s freely available – and that’s held back practical uses on the farm, Ault says.
“If you look at the agriculture space, that’s one thing that’s conspicuously absent,” he says. “If you want to do something with data – write a piece of software that interacts with your tractor or with the scale that you weigh your livestock on, or something like that – there is no freely available piece of open-source software, so that you don’t have to start from scratch. That severely limits the innovation potential within agriculture.”
Ault’s group is among the four key organizations with projects geared to help farmers transition to data-driven agriculture:
AgGateway is working on common meanings, processes and formats for farmers’ data across the industry. Several precision ag projects are under way, including the new ADAPT software toolkit that enables interoperability among different software and hardware applications.
American Farm Bureau Federation has developed a way for vendors to be transparent about how they use farmers’ data. AFBF worked with other farm groups to create the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator, which helps farmers understand how their data will be used when they adopt precision ag technologies. Providers answer 10 questions that help farmers wade through detailed privacy and end-user agreements.
Agricultural Data Coalition focuses on how farmers can safely store and share their data. It formed last spring to help farmers control and manage electronic data by using a neutral, centralized repository from which farmers could, over time, push data to multiple sites.
Open Ag Data Alliance is improving how data can be securely moved among different parties. OADA formed in early 2014 to help the industry get data flowing automatically, so farmers can reap the benefits of data-driven decisions and stop wrangling with incompatible systems. OADA is building an open-source framework that will enable hardware and software systems to communicate automatically through cloud solutions.
Here are more details on the groups and their missions:
AgGateway is a nonprofit consortium of more than 200 businesses collaborating to promote,
enable and expand e-business in agriculture.
It has several connectivity projects underway, but AgGateway’s new ADAPT software toolkit is generating the most excitement. Citing many benefits, a dozen U.S. grower organizations are calling on Farm Management Information System firms to integrate the ADAPT framework into their systems.
With that integration into products, farmers will be able to manage data across different precision agriculture systems – regardless of the manufacturer.
“Farmers may never even hear the name ADAPT, but suddenly they’ll realize that their equipment can talk to each other, and that it’s working and that they have gotten over this really significant technological hurdle,” says Susan Ruland, AgGateway communication director.
Companies committed to using ADAPT and releasing plug-ins for many proprietary data formats include Agco, Ag Leader Technology, Claas, CNH Industrial, Deere & Co., Praxidyn, Raven Industries, Topcon Precision Agriculture and Trimble Navigation.
ADAPT stands for agricultural data application programming toolkit.
It’s the result of more than two years of painstaking work by the AgGateway teams and “a really fabulous collaborative effort of companies,” Ruland says. “I think we’re going to start to see a cascading effect of more and more companies using the ADAPT toolkit and making things easier for growers.”
Ensuring seamless transfer of information is one of the most revolutionary areas that agriculture could be working on right now, she says.
The Ag Data Transparency Evaluator was launched last spring, two years after a coalition of farmer-led industry organizations and numerous agriculture technology providers identified key areas of concern for producers.
About four years ago, farmers had begun calling Farm Bureau with questions about data ownership and privacy. Many were not comfortable with contracts that companies wanted them to sign. The companies wanted the farmers to give them all their data. Farmers wanted to know what would happen to their data.
Nine state Farm Bureaus, mostly in the Midwest, joined AFBF in meeting with about eight major agribusinesses in 2013. That led to the development of 10 questions that a farmer ought to ask whomever he’s giving his data, says Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations for American Farm Bureau.
Further work led to grassroots policy recommendations on data privacy, transparency and portability. A principles document was written.
The result is the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator, a farmer-driven initiative that is not controlled by the agriculture technology providers whose products are reviewed.
“The idea was to drive companies to write policies that are more transparent,” Thatcher says.
The tool helps farmers figure out exactly where to look in a contract for the answers they’re seeking, using hyperlinks to pertinent sections.
“It’s free to farmers,” Thatcher says. “You can get on there and in a short time, read through and figure out what you want to know.”
Companies pay to go through the process, and a questionnaire is sent to them electronically. They answer it and it’s sent back with the payment. A third-party administrator reviews the information and goes back and forth with the companies to ensure clarity and transparency.
So far, eight companies that have gone through the Transparency Evaluator are approved for listing on the website, fb.org/agdatatransparent.
Agricultural Data Coalition
The Agricultural Data Coalition is developing a farmer-controlled data repository. It’s a privacy-ensured way for farmers to manage access to their farm data, services and products, as well as the markets.
“Our niche is the storage, the data bucket, the centralization of that data, and storing of that data over time while staying out of the way of the innovation or services tier,” says Matt Bechdol, interim executive director.
He likens the repository to a safe deposit box with assets that farmers control. “It’s a safe, secure, neutral place where the growers are in charge of that access,” he says.
A pilot project to see what farmers need and what a central place would be like is underway with growers, service providers and researchers.
Bechdol says ADC’s strength comes from its diverse membership. Founding members include Agco, Agri-AFCV, CNH Industrial, Crop IMS, Raven Industries, Topcon Precision Agriculture, American Farm Bureau Federation, the Ice Miller law firm, Iowa AgState, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and other land-grant universities: Mississippi State, Ohio State, Auburn and Purdue.
“We’ve got an advisory board that’s made up of growers from all walks of life across the country,” Bechdol says.
At Purdue University, OADA unites members the world over, from tractor manufacturers to crop nutrition companies to farmers. The community includes commercial vendors, academics and developers in the emerging ag data market.
Recently, Valley Irrigation was the first commercial organization in the OADA system whose cloud-based platform was OADA-conformant.
OADA is working closely with many current partners to make advances happen faster for farmers, while also protecting privacy. Main sponsors are CNH, WinField and The Climate Corp. The group is urging that more commercial systems conform to OADA standards, Ault says.
On his crop and beef farm in north-central Indiana, Ault has lived through the frustrations that many farmers experience with incompatible systems.
“Traditionally, we’ve had serious problems with interoperability,” Ault says. “If you talk to farmers on the ground, a lot of them would say that is the thing that they beat their head against the wall over. They have a piece of software that they want to use and then have some new controller they want to use, and it doesn’t work with their machine – or it might cost $5,000 for some conversion kit to make it work with their machine.
“It’s when you want to start using the data that interoperability becomes a problem, because no single manufacturer makes all of the things that work on my farm,” Ault says.
As farmers make data a critical part of their management routine, he says, they need systems that can incorporate data from a multitude of sources.
OADA came about to help speed along a sort of ag-based Internet – a huge global data sharing paradigm where farmers control data they generate, and where they can have software from five different vendors and machines from three, four, five different companies – and it all just happens to work together, Ault says.
“That’s what OADA is trying to build right now.” He says. “It’s essentially paralleling how the Internet was built.”
The Open Ag Data Alliance is about making the farmer’s data available to the software and to the applications on the phone in his pocket, so that he can make decisions in the now, when the questions come up, Ault says.