In October 2019, Bayer’s digital agriculture division, The Climate Corporation (Climate Corp), announced a partnership between its FieldView™ digital farming platform and Tillable, a self-described first-of-its-kind digital marketplace connecting farmers and landowners. According to Tillable, it was “created to help landowners receive fair rent and get the insights they need about their farm’s performance, while also helping great farmers build their reputations and expand operations.”
This week, Climate Corp announced it is ending the partnership over farmer backlash on social media against an agreement to share Tillable customer data with Bayer. Tillable said it would never have had access to Climate Corp’s data unless farmers granted it. But, the dust-up comes at a time when Bayer is already dealing with mounting legal and financial difficulties stemming from its recent pesticide penalty of $265mn, as well as pending high-profile cases on the herbicide Roundup, inherited post-Monsanto acquisition.
This case of the agriculture sector being subjected to social media pressures about a digital marketplace shows how another traditionally non-tech sector is being disrupted. Tillable claims to be digitizing the $32bn farmland rental market. Bayer division/Climate Corp’s Fieldview “helps farmers make more informed operating decisions to optimize yields, maximize efficiency, and reduce risk—helping increase yield and maximize profit—hallmarks of any digital transformation process.” Farmers are using tech, data, and analytics to inform decisions about cost-optimization and profit-maximization in the same way business leaders in any sector do today.
The particulars of the backlash, including sensitivities and confusion around data-sharing between the two companies, point to the need for a regulatory framework governing the use of data in the U. S. Confusion about whether or not farmers’ data was being shared between the two companies could have been resolved with more transparency. This case is also evidence of just how valuable user data has become.
Bayer’s attempt to control the damage by severing a relationship that was only four months old is an indication of how sensitive public companies can be to reputation and how quickly public sentiment can move against a company in the social media era. This was clearly not a fight Bayer wanted at a time when it is already facing an immense legal battle and a plummeting share price post-Monsanto merger.
The digital transformation of Bayer and the ag sector will go on, but company shareholders will be served by greater transparency and improved governance of digital assets.