Canadian Federation of Agriculture

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Comments submitted by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture on ‘A Consultation on a Modern Copyright Framework for Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things’

September 17th, 2021

Emailed to:

 RE: A Consultation on a Modern Copyright Framework for Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things

Jobs and Growth in Canada’s Agri-food Industry

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) is Canada’s largest general farm organization, representing approximately 200,000 farm families from coast to coast to coast through membership from provincial general farm organizations, as well as national and inter-provincial commodity organizations. The CFA's mission is to promote the interests of Canadian agriculture and agri-food producers, including farm families, through leadership at the national level and to ensure the continued development of a viable and vibrant agriculture and agri-food industry in Canada.

Canadian agriculture’s potential as a driver of inclusive growth has been clearly identified by the Minister of Finance’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth and reinforced through the work of the agri-food economic strategy table. The opportunity to increase Canadian agri-food exports and domestic sales holds significant potential to increase the sector’s economic contributions beyond the $140 billion in GDP and 1 in 8 jobs that Canada’s agri-food industry already provides each year. The agri-food industry is unique in its capacity to create jobs and produce prosperity in regions all across Canada, while contributing to Canadians’ quality of life through access to affordable quality agri-food productions, ecological goods and services, and the vibrancy of rural communities across Canada.

The following submission highlights the importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to the future growth of Canada’s agriculture and agri-food industries, but notes that a number of challenges voiced by producers lack sufficient research and associated understanding for producers to fully contribute to this consultation process. As a result, CFA strongly recommends the need for greater engagement and dialogue with agricultural stakeholders, support for research in these areas, and dedicated consultation to ensure the voice of Canada’s primary producers is able to adequately inform this critical policy review. For this reason, CFA’s submission does not directly respond to the consultation questions raised in the consultation document, but instead highlights the rationale for a consultation more appropriately framed to producers rather than copyright holders.

The Importance of AI and IoT

The aforementioned opportunities are predicated on Canadian agriculture’s continued capacity for innovation and access to new technologies. As such, CFA welcomes the opportunity to consult on the public consultation on ‘A Modern Copyright Framework for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT)’, and offer feedback based on consultations with our members, representing nearly 200,000 farm families across Canada.

Primary producers’ continued efforts to find efficiencies and improve the sustainability of their operations increasingly rely on access to quality data, requiring AIT and IoT-enabled technologies for its collection and analysis. The continued emergence and increasing uptake of innovative precision agriculture technologies and advancements in on-farm data management demonstrate the growing importance of AI and IoT in the agriculture industry. As noted by RBC, in its report entitled Farmer 4.0: How the coming skills revolution can transform agriculture, “A fourth agricultural revolution is underway, and Canada needs to seize it. The Internet of Farming, powered by advanced technologies like autonomous tractors and drone-mounted sensors, is already transforming the way we produce food.”Footnote 1

This technology-driven fourth revolution, which has the potential to maintain Canadian agriculture’s pre-eminence in productivity growth across Canadian industries, is reliant on the widespread adoption of precision agriculture and its associated technologies. Precision agriculture is “a management strategy that gathers, processes and analyzes temporal, spatial and individual data and combines it with other information to support management decisions according to estimated variability for improved resource use efficiency, productivity, quality, profitability and sustainability of agricultural production.”Footnote 2

Farmers and ranchers across Canada are already adopting this management strategy in a variety of context and to varying extents. However, their emergence and importance to the sector has been limited by continued deficiencies in Canada’s rural digital infrastructure connectivity, both in terms of connectivity to the farmgate and farm-field. In addition, it has brought forward a growing number of concerns on the part of Canadian producers with respect to the management and stewardship of on-farm data and the technologies involved.

Producer Concerns with AI and IoT: Right to Repair, data stewardship, and interoperability

Increasing digitization of on-farm technologies has seen a rise in concerns with farmers’ capacity to get onboard computers in tractors and combines repaired in a timely and affordable fashion. Generally speaking, this equipment is located far away from service providers and is not easy to move, as a result, producers have undertaken repairs or relied on local technicians to avoid costly delays. However, the use of technological protection measures (TPM) on these computers has spurred calls to resolve the associated delays and added costs they add to equipment repairs, particularly during time-sensitive harvest periods.

In addition, precision agriculture requires the collection and analysis of a massive amount of on-farm data, to inform practices that ensure each plant and animal is tended with individualized care. The collection of this data generally occurs through on-farm equipment (e.g. sensors on tractors, combines, or barn management systems) that is purchased with a terms of service agreement. However, digital literacy regarding data stewardship is limited among producers resulting in a lack of awareness and understanding of what these agreements entail. As a result, producers across Canada regularly voice concerns with a lack of agency and ownership of their own data, particularly with respect to their rights to limit and/or grant access to third parties.

Challenges with data stewardship manifest themselves in concerns regarding the privacy of their data, accountability to its security, and limitations on the interoperability of on-farm management systems that often leave producers beholden to individual technology providers if they wish to leverage the data collected on their farmers. The absence of standardized or commonly shared structural and semantic interoperability continues to limit producers’ capacity to fully leverage the array of emerging precision agricultural technologies, both in terms of equipment and software platforms. Meanwhile, technology providers maintain extensive databases of valuable, aggregate and identifiable on-farm data, which is often disparate and proprietary in nature. This not only raises concerns around the privacy, security and ownership of producer data, but also places significant constraints on the innovation capacity of the sector as a whole.

The concerns of Canadian producers are evident in recent policy resolutions raised by farm leaders across Canada and adopted by CFA delegates at recent Annual General Meetings:

2021 – Right to Repair and Planned Obsolescence in Agriculture
BE IT RESOLVED that CFA work in conjunction with provincial farm organizations to research and actively engage in discussions regarding farmers’ right to repair and planned obsolescence.

2020 - Farm Data Collection and Privacy
BE IT RESOLVED that CFA lobby the Government of Canada to give farmers the right to manage the business data collected by companies who are using cloud based and any other datacollection technologies; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that CFA lobby the Government of Canada to require that all Agriculture Technology Providers operating in Canada sign an agreement similar to the “Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data” agreement developed by the American Farm Bureau.

Digital literacy & the need for further research

The referenced CFA policy resolutions highlight that producers see a critical and urgent need for greater research and dialogue regarding the concerns expressed above. There is also widespread recognition of the need to improve digital literacy among producers to ensure they maintain agency and the capacity to make informed decisions with respect to the use of their business data. While CFA is aware of emergent Canadian research into the governance of farm data, little research has been undertaken on this matter to date and a lack of financial support continues to constrain many proposed studies in this space.

Assessments of existing on-farm data security measures and digital literacy are required to ensure producers have the tools they need to make informed decisions around service agreements and associated access to on-farm data. There is also a critical need to explore  models for on-farm data stewardship, given the up and downstream consolidation producers face in agri-food supply chains and the competitiveness implications associated with the accumulation of massive amounts of identifiable farm data.

Initial assessments suggest there is a lack of sufficient oversight and privacy protections relating to on-farm data, which is unique in many respects from general business data – most notably due to the fragmented nature of agricultural SMEs, the fact that many producers reside at their place of business, and the extent to which technology providers can garner insight into nearly all facets of both aggregate and individual farm production practices. Further exploration of potential legislative and regulatory responses is likely required, but before this can even occur there is a need for preliminary research into current data-related provisions in service agreements to more comprehensively understand the current uses and applications of farm data, and the extent to which producers’ privacy and data security is maintained.

The Need for further engagement

Through internal consultation across CFA’s membership, which represents nearly 200,000 farm families across Canada, and dialogue with academic experts in data governance, it has become evident that there is not a sufficient knowledge or evidence base for producers to provide informed responses to the questions laid out in the consultation. The highly technical nature of many questions and their framing, generally targeted towards copyright holders, limit the capacity for primary producers to inform the development of this framework. While anecdotal evidence came forward with respect to individual use cases, the lack of pan-Canadian research and digital literacy regarding data management precludes a comprehensive response on the part of Canada’s primary agricultural producers.

CFA believes the concerns and challenges noted above clearly demonstrate the need to ensure that producers have an opportunity to inform a Modern Copyright Framework for Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things in Canada. Therefore, CFA recommends further dialogue with policy-makers to identify a means through which Canada’s primary producers can be adequately consulted on this framework, which is critical to the innovation, productivity and sustainability of Canadian farms into the future.

For any inquiries or further discussion on the contents of this submission, please contact Scott Ross, Assistant Executive Director with the CFA.