Innovation Through Cooperative Data Governance: The Case of the US Dairy Sector

We discuss a unique approach to innovation and data governance in agriculture using the dairy sector as a case study. One challenge of data governance is making data available to firms for research while still preserving the rights of those who produce the data. Data has become a powerful tool for innovation in agriculture, and most of this data is now produced on the farm. We examine one institutional approach to managing this trade-off used in dairy for nearly a century: cooperative data governance. The National Cooperative Dairy Herd Improvement Program is a decentralized system for collecting dairy farm data to produce valuable information on cattle genetics while keeping ownership of the data in the hands of the farmer. After discussing its history, we discuss how its evolution can inform data governance in agriculture today. The current landscape of digital agriculture could benefit by emphasizing cooperative ownership, setting uniform data standards, and decentralized operation that the NCDHIP has pioneered for the past century.