Agricultural Big Data Analytics and the Ethics of Power

Mark Ryan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Agricultural Big Data analytics (ABDA) is being proposed to ensure better farming practices, decision-making, and a sustainable future for humankind. However, the use and adoption of these technologies may bring about potentially undesirable consequences, such as exercises of power. This paper will analyse Brey’s five distinctions of power relationships (manipulative, seductive, leadership, coercive, and forceful power) and apply them to the use agricultural Big Data. It will be shown that ABDA can be used as a form of manipulative power to initiate cheap land grabs and acquisitions. Seductive power can be exercised by pressuring farmers into situations they would not have otherwise chosen (such as installing monitors around their farm and limited access to their farm and machinery). It will be shown that agricultural technology providers (ATPs) demonstrate leadership power by getting farmers to agree to use ABDA without informed consent. Coercive power is exercised when ATPs threaten farmers with the loss of ABDA if they do not abide by the policies and requirements of the ATP or are coerced to remain with the ATP because of fear of legal and economic reprisal. ATPs may use ABDA to determine willingness-to-pay rates from farmers, using this information to force farmers into precarious and vulnerable positions. Altogether, this paper will apply these five types of power to the use and implementation of ABDA to demonstrate that it is being used to exercise power in the agricultural industry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-69
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Agricultural big data
  • Agricultural technology provider
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Data analytics agriculture
  • Ethics
  • Power


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