Smart farming – have you got the legal issues covered?

Technology has always played a vital role in the agricultural sector and it should be no surprise that Smart Farming is due to increase significantly in the coming years given the needs of a rapidly growing global population, the requirement for increased yields and global warming threats.

What is smart farming?
A group of technologies which includes drones, smart sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and geographic information software systems. Zion Market Research have estimated that the global market was worth $5billion in 2016 and will rapidly increase to $16billion by 2025.

The rise of big data
Smart farming is producing an ever-increasing amount of agricultural data: this data is being used to forecast production and to maximise yields but the vast amount of data produced gives rise to a number of legal issues.

Personal data and privacy
Although most data will not directly identify individuals, it is likely to do so indirectly in a number of situations where information relates to the size/ location of a farm and its related output. In some cases, this might also reveal a farmer’s income and there is already case law that this would amount to personal data, protected by data protection law.

Who owns the data?
There are a number of new technology players in the farming sector together with potentially complex software licencing agreements. Great care will be needed to ensure that farmers (or the technology suppliers) do obtain the contractual rights that they need to use data and software. As data is not a traditional intellectual property right, the only safe legal way to ensure rights of use/ownership of such data will be through well-drafted contracts.

Liability for the use of AI
AI is increasingly making use of sophisticated algorithmic systems in order to assist with forecasting and decision-making using patterns emerging from data and the AI system’s own machine learning techniques. Given the inherent complexity and lack of transparency of some AI systems, it is far from clear who will be legally liable if, for example, the use of AI leads to incorrect forecasting and financial loss to the farmer. Until national law regulates the area of AI liability or clear case law emerges, supply contracts will need to consider the potential adverse results that may arise and assign legal liability for such results.