Farm data is the new oil, someone told me last week. It is a common enough phrase to hear at my off-farm job where I have the lofty title of “data scientist”.

This is the work I do three days a week with the Walton Institute, a research centre in what used to be called Waterford Institute of Technology.

The official name now though is the South East Technological University, after the recent merger with Carlow Institute of Technology.

Whatever about this new organisation and its role in the sunny south-east, the notion that farm data is the new oil has been around for a few years.

Often, the statement is proclaimed by a tech wizard who has never set foot on a farm and never spoken to a farmer.

They are the type to think almost anything they look at is “the new oil”, ripe for extracting and selling, and turning them into millionaires along the way.

Before going any further, let me offer what might be a useful way to think about farm data. It is simply information about what is happening on a farm.

Tonnes of grain per acre is farm data. Weighing and recording cattle weights is farm data. The amount of milk collected by the bulk tank is farm data.

Recording what dose and how much of it you give to a sick calf is farm data. It is no more and no less than that. There are countless other examples.


Much of the hype around farm data comes from those who have data extraction equipment to sell. But they are correct in one sense when they compare farm data to oil, since there is a lot of work involved with both raw materials.

Oil in its crude form must first be drilled and pumped out of the ground. It must be refined into petrol, diesel, and various other products. It must be transported and stored.

And while we now assume there is a ready market for oil-based products, there wasn’t always so many planes, trains, and automobiles to consume it and make all the work worthwhile.

It is impossible to say at this stage what intermediary work will be required and what different people and organisations will be involved, to create a functioning market for farm data.

Ultimately, what farmers can do is ask more questions. Who has access to your farm’s information? And what are they doing with it? If you are happy with the answers you discover, then life is too short to worry any more about it.

If you are not happy, and you now have more questions than answers, then talk to other farmers, ask your adviser, maybe even phone the Department or Bord Bia and ask them.

If you’re internet-savvy, you could Google “agridiscrete” which is a research project I recently worked on at the off-farm job.

It has infographics, a short video, and a few other bits and pieces targeted specifically at farmers with questions on their data.

Farm data might turn out to be the new oil. It is too early to say, but all of us can certainly learn some data vocabulary and better position ourselves if the stars were ever to align.