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After almost six years practicing as an intellectual property (IP) attorney at Baker & McKenzie in Dallas, I returned home to work for our family farm in Charleston, Missouri this spring. Moreton Partnership is a 5,000 acre corn, wheat, and soybean row crop operation located along the Mississippi River in Southeast Missouri. My great-grandfather Carleton Moreton started farming in this area in the 1930s, and now I am the fourth generation of Moreton to farm. One of the first things I noticed after returning home is the vast amount of unprotected data that a modern farm generates—data that needs to be protected and legally attributed as the farm’s intellectual property. In any other industry, this would’ve happened years ago.

A farm’s IP is much more difficult to define – and therefore value – than IP in other industries, or even other IP within the agricultural industry, which I believe is part of the reason that farms have been slow to protect their IP. Equipment manufacturers such as John Deere or Case IH can protect their new machinery and designs with utility and design patents. Seed companies such as Pioneer can protect newly developed plant varieties with plant patents. But these protections are not available to farms.
A farm’s primary business is not designing and selling new equipment or developing new seed varieties, or even differentiating its grains from those of its neighbors. It is growing and selling plants that are inherently similar and by definition, commodities. But growing and selling crops successfully requires a lot of institutional knowledge and data to make the right decisions – more often that not on-the-spot. How do you measure and place a value on this? On a farm’s best practices and processes, most of which are result of multiple generations passing down knowledge on the land?
Practically every piece of equipment that a modern farm uses generates data. When a seed was planted, what was the weather at the time, the soil temperature, fertilizers used, when it was irrigated – these are just a few examples of information that is generated and collected as a result of a few decisions. All of these data points can be correlated with the crop’s yield, and if collected year after year, all of the sudden you can get a pretty specific understanding of what works best on a particular field.
It’s time for farms to begin thinking of the data that is generated and collected on their farms every day as their own IP. It is not a matter of being forward-thinking, it’s about competing in an environment where every single dollar counts and where a detailed, accurate farm P&L can mean better terms on a loan.
The key to protecting (and subsequently valuing), a farm’s IP is ensuring a) the exclusive ownership of any agronomic, financial, and operational data collected on the farm and b) the easy access to organized, accurate data. Exclusivity is the only way in which we’ll be able to monetize our IP if we want to sell it (and exclusivity ensures that this choice is the farm’s and farm’s alone). It shouldn’t be owned by the equipment manufacturers, the seed companies, or even the software companies that help capture it. But before we can commercialize our farm’s information, we need the technology – and discipline – to collect and organize it. Gone are the days of writing notes on pieces of paper that are later lost, or saying “it’s all up in my head.”
It’s up to us, farmers, to understand data policies and to choose to work with companies we trust and have researched thoroughly. It’s our data, and we stand to benefit from it in numerous ways. It may not be as shiny as a new combine or as imposing as a couple hundred acres of land, but it’s just as valuable, if not more.

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Kip Tom discusses a new approach for proficiency, profitability and long-term success.
Tom Farms has existed for more than 175 plus years. The technology and business of farming has changed dramatically over those years. When I think about the next 175 years for Tom Farms, the one thing I know for sure is that the pace of change is going to be even faster. To be successful, we will need to react to changes in markets quickly, learn technology fast and use data to improve our efficiency and decisions. In fact, the single most important advantage for any farm business is becoming its ability to “learn fast.”
With this in mind, it’s critical for our industry to take an honest look at how much we learn every year in the forty chances we have in a lifetime as a farmer, how we manage information and how we make decisions. Historically, farming has been a “learn from your dad” and “learn by doing” industry, which is good, but we need to increase the velocity of learning and change. Even the best run farms don’t spend enough time understanding what works and what doesn’t every year. Many important decisions get made with intuition, not data. Most of our institutional knowledge lives in people’s heads and in Excel worksheets.
We can do much better. We need to bring the intuitive nature that we’ve learned over time out of our heads and into a system that translates it quickly for the next generation. Other industries have successfully used software to get control of their data, improve their efficiency and make better decisions. It has been difficult for farms to use software because most of our critical production activity and decisions happen outside and away from the office computer. However, advances in cloud computing, mobile phones and big data analytics have made it possible for the whole farm team to access super powerful capabilities right from their smart phones.
Some of you may be familiar with farm management software, but farm decision systems take the value much further. They not only empower us to better manage our farms, but to also take the data – that has been sitting dormant in our office, on our fields, or in isolated software – and transform it into a valuable resource that allows us to make better decisions that dramatically improve our businesses.
Tom Farms is one of a growing group of enterprise-level farms that has adopted Granular’s farm decision system. Granular is a San Francisco company backed by Google that has assembled a top team of software developers, designers and data scientists. They are focused on serving large, enterprise-level growers and are building a sales and support team in all the major farming states. Granular is rapidly adding new capabilities to its software and aims to support all the key operational, agronomic and financial processes on the farm.
We ran Granular’s farm decision systems for the entire 2014 crop season and found that it made our business more professional, more efficient and smarter. Some of the key benefits we experienced were:

  • We used Granular instead of Excel for many things this year. It is much faster, easier to use and less error prone.
  • Rather than going back and forth between multiple software systems, Granular gives us one system to collect, organize and analyze our data.
  • Granular allowed everyone on our team to see what was happening on the farm in real time from any device.
  • Granular allowed our whole team to work from the same production schedule and list of tasks. Sending work orders to mobile phones replaced dozens of phone calls, texts and emails every day. It even allowed us to connect when some of us were away from the farm.
  • Granular’s smart scheduling tool estimates field conditions, growth stage and grain moisture. This allowed us to set the order of field operations without having to drive around the farm
  • Granular helped us better understand how long it took us to complete each major field operation and highlighted ways we could get more work done faster.
  • As we roll into the 2015 cycle, Granular gives us all our 2014 results – agronomic, operational, financial – right where we need them to make key crop planning and budgeting decisions.

Like any new technology, it took some time to adapt our workflow to Granular’s farm decision system. But, very quickly we saw our team operating more efficiently, more collaboratively, more informed and with fewer fire drills by running the business on Granular. And, I am confident that Granular is setting Tom Farms up to learn faster, make better decisions and quickly adapt to what the future has in store for us.

About the Author

Kip Tom is the Managing Member of Tom Farms LLC and the President of CereServ Inc. In addition to being active in Agri-Business operations in Indiana for the past 39 years, Kip has also served as a crop production consultant to various companies in Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Today Kip leads finance, strategy and production operations for Tom Farms and CereServ in the U.S. and Argentina.

About Granular

Granular is a breakthrough software and analytics platform designed specifically for the professional farm. After launching commercially in July 2014, Granular is being adopted by producers nationwide who are investing to make their businesses more professional, efficient, and profitable. Granular helps these producers organize their operational, financial, and agronomic data into one system and use it to make better decisions. Granular is backed by leading venture investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, and Khosla Ventures.

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