Farmers want more safeguards around sharing data

·4-min read

With the federal government's push for farmers to be more climate smart, some producers say better safeguards are first needed around data sharing.

The government's $302 million climate smart package got a kick along on Wednesday with Agriculture Minister Murray Watt visiting a Cairns farm to offer more details on how the program would work.

Cane farmer Mark Savino has been working to make his soil more productive for the past 14 years.

It's been a long journey, made easier he said through help from a government agency.

"They keep you motivated," said the cane farmer.

Any improvements to his soil are recorded, including DNA data collected to determine what's in it.

With the federal government's emissions reduction target of 43 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050 enshrined into law, the push is on for farmers to do their bit.

The sector is said to contribute around 13 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions each year.

But any reductions need to be linked to data and at the other end of the country in Albury mixed farmer Justin Everitt is reluctant about sharing information.

"There could be possibilities where there's soil data, yield data and spray data all stored in a cloud set up ... we haven't been put at ease that that data is safe and it's our data," the NSW farmer told AAP.

"Farms are a business, and that data is part of our business ... I would want some safeguards around the protection of data," he said.

High on his list of concerns is data being misused.

"If you look at some data without some context to it, you can misinterpret it," he said.

The May budget broke down how $302 million worth of climate smart money will be spent, with a chunk of it, $40 million, to help farmers better understand carbon and biodiversity markets.

Mark Howden from the Australian National University, who heads up the Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions, welcomes an injection of independent advice to be provided for farmers.

"We need to have confidence in the data that's being collected, both at a public level and at a private level," Professor Howden said.

And he said farmers need to be confident protections are in place to protect their data for any scheme to work.

"And ensuring ... that people have confidence that that data that they provide is going to be secure."

On the eve of a carbon farming industry forum starting in Cairns on Monday, John Connor from the Carbon Market Institute which is behind the conference said there needed to be safeguards around data privacy.

"I do think there needs to be serious discussion around the safeguards ... and to make sure we've got adequate resourcing for landholders ... to make sure they're well supported," Mr Connor told AAP.

"It's in the farmers own interests that they share this data ...because there are solid databases from which public decisions are being made, including ones which assist farmers build their own resilience and productivity."

"There is a tricky balancing act here but I think technology is going to allow us to deal with many of these issues, if not all," he said.

But Andrew Ward who heads up a farmer-owned mutual encouraging farmers to regenerate and commercialise environmental outcomes said 12 years after the carbon market was set up, producers are still anxious.

"There's general suspicion that this is just another way to fleece farmers," said Mr Ward.

"Where I'm talking data, I'm really talking about carbon, biodiversity ESG data, where it feels like even if I don't want to give it to you, I'm going to be compelled to give it to you," he told AAP at a farm writer's lunch in Sydney.

"The question becomes, are you a proactive participant in the collection, analysis and sharing of your data, or are you going to have it happen to you?" Mr Ward asked the audience.

This year's review of Australia's carbon credit system led by former chief scientist Ian Chubb found the scheme needed more transparency, with improvements demanded around data sharing.

It also recommended improvements be made around information and incentives.

Pip Grant from the carbon sequestration start up Loam said farmers have shifted from concerns over privacy to how they can monetise the environmental improvements they have made.

"We're only using data that would benefit or improve sustainability on farm and by the time they're (the farmer) signing up a carbon project, they're really secure in that idea," she told AAP.