September 01, 2023

The “Immaculate Conception of Data” – and why it’s a problem

Episode 2 of 'Who will control the food system?'
Food Barons report cover art showing peasants resisting corporate digital giants

Tune into the next episode in our latest podcast mini-series, Who Will Control the Food System, where we uncover just who's pulling the strings of industrial agriculture, dissect the latest corporate strategies, and take inspiration from the peoples and movements fighting back.

In this second episode, Zahra Moloo talks to Kelly Bronson, a social scientist at the University of Ottawa in Canada, about her research into the secretive legal agreements surrounding agricultural big data, to trace how it is used and with what consequences. In particular, what happens when big data is embedded in pre-existing arrangements of power and corporate strategies?

Take tractors, for example. ‘Digital’ tractors are not like the vehicles of times past. They have built-in sensors that collect data and stream it to cloud-based infrastructure. Critically, the digital business model means that the farmer does not own the tractor, or the software that is embedded in the tractor, or even the data that is generated by the equipment. Rather, when a farmer purchases a tractor from a farm machinery company such as John Deere the farmer only receives a “license to operate the vehicle.” It is the company, Deere, that owns all of it.

Not only that, but the farmer also has to pay (in addition to paying to use the tractor) for automated data services or data support services that will provide him with technical advice – which the farmer must follow – on what, when and how to plant in his own field. 

What is this data that is generated from the tractor? How is data more generally captured in the context of agriculture? Who uses it? Why doesn’t the farmer own it? 

In this second episode Zahra Moloo and Kelly Bronson talk about Bronson's new book, “The Immaculate Conception of Data: Agribusiness, Activists, and Their Shared Politics of the Future.”

Listen in as we explore these questions!


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