Is Big Brother Watching You?
Watching the Winter Olympics’ closing ceremonies Sunday and hearing some good news from the Ukraine, made me reflect more upon speakers from our recent policy meeting at Farm Bureau headquarters in Des Moines. All of pondering also heightened my concern about how much access to farm data the U.S. has and how it could be used. It’s no secret that Big Brother keeps a close eye on farmers, but recent meetings have unveiled to me that today’s technology is giving government officials access to more farm data than ever.
“I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” That was the opening statement made by the first speaker at our recent Iowa Farm Bureau policy meeting. At first, I thought the man was joking. Then I realized he was dead serious.
Bill Bing, Policy Administration Branch Chief for the United States Department of Agriculture, explained how the new Farm Bill ties crop insurance to conservation. I’m thinking, “No big deal. I farm in a very conscience manner about my soil. I no till when possible, and I try to not waste any resources.”
But fear started to run like ice through my veins as Mr. Bing explained the power our new Farm Bill gives government employees. Google maps allows government officials to zoom in on particular farming operations, and the level of detail that can be viewed has this old farm boy concerned about “the facilities” behind the barn anymore! If something catches an official’s eye, the government can come on to my property and investigate. (Will the government view that I am polluting the environment by using “facilities” behind the barn? Is this just cause for a search?)
Bing even went so far as to say that the government wants information from yield monitors in our combines directly linked to their databases! Years of information will be fed into computer and analyzed, so officials can find reason to investigate. And I thought their budget was being reduced!!
Another speaker at the policy conference was Matt Bechdol, president of GeoSilos, who talked about how data is collected by companies. GPS can enable a vast amount of information to be collected, down to where your tractor is operating, what it’s doing and for how long. New planters can transmit how many kernels of corn is being planted and at what depth. Where does this information go and who has access to it? If a company or entity collects enough of this information about planted acres and yields, it can play the markets or even influence them! (How scary is that?)
Day 2 of the policy conference delivered the same message by Vickie Friedow, Ag Program Specialist for Iowa Farm Service, and Soil Conservationist Don Carrington from the Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service: Government pretty much has free access to check out your operation for something they think they have found odd. And while they are there, you can bet the farm they’ll look at any storage tank, piles of spare parts, and your burn pile. What can and can’t be burned on a farm has personally been read to me, and it’s baffling. Don’t try using any common sense to guess what can and can’t be in that pile!
Yep, today I’m reflecting on Ukraine and Russia. I’m hoping and praying for freedom the Ukrainians have the freedom to farm and sell their products in a way that makes sense, so they can improve their future. There is much potential in the Breadbasket of Europe… Potential I’m hoping and praying we Americans can maintain!