Ag Data Act helps farmers secure value from USDA data

Bipartisan bill would aggregate and anonymize USDA farmer data, making it accessible to land-grant university researchers while maintaining producer privacy.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

March 2, 2018

3 Min Read
Capitol Building Washington D C

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently manages and stores valuable producer data, but the data can be better utilized to inform producer understanding about which conservation practices reduce risk and improve profitability. A new bipartisan bill would aggregate and anonymize the farmer data that USDA already manages, making it accessible to land-grant university researchers while maintaining producer privacy.

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and John Thune (R., S.D.), senior members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, introduced bipartisan legislation to improve agriculture data research of conservation practices to help farmers reduce risk and increase profitability.

The Agriculture Data Act would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to collect, collate, integrate, and link data relating to the impacts of covered conservation practices on enhancing crop yields, soil health, and otherwise reducing risk and improving farm and ranch profitability. It would also give the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to establish a secure, confidential cloud-based conservation and farm productivity data warehouse to store operational, transactional, and administrative program databases and records that support business, statistical, and other analysis.

“Farmers sustain an important pillar of our nation’s economy, and do so under unpredictable market and weather conditions year-to-year,” Klobuchar said. “This bipartisan legislation will ensure hardworking farmers are able to capitalize on the United States Department of Agriculture’s vast resources to streamline their operations, enhance yields, and increase profits.”

“One of the greatest challenges with applying the most effective conservation practices, like cover crops on working lands, is measuring the economic value these practices can provide, such as increased crop yields on subsequent crops,” Thune said. “This legislation would help farmers and land-grant universities better utilize USDA’s massive collection of conservation data and enable them to choose the best conservation practices that would improve productivity on farming operations.” 

The Agriculture Data Act has been endorsed by the National Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, and AGree.

“We are grateful to Senator Klobuchar for introducing this bill which will strengthen research across the country on the impacts of agricultural conservation practices. This bill would benefit Minnesota farmers and ranchers as they are provided more data on conservation and its increased crop yields, better soil health, and other risk-reducing factors,” Peggy Ladner, director for The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota said.

“This smart legislation helps the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) draw on its incredible data sources to provide insights into the connection between conservation practices and crop yields. We thank Senators Klobuchar and Thune for taking the lead on improving data development, access, and use.  This will provide farmers in Minnesota, and across the country, access to better information about the benefits of conservation practices to soil, water, wildlife and producer economics,” Jason Dinsmore, interim executive director of Minnesota Conservation Federation and director of conservation partnerships for National Wildlife Federation said.

“Conservation is a key element of South Dakota’s production agriculture landscape, and there’s an urgent need to learn more about the value of conservation practices in enhancing crop production, improving soil health, and reducing risk. The Agriculture Data Act of 2018 could provide land-grant universities, such as South Dakota State University, better access to USDA-compiled conservation data, resulting in more accurate recommendations for conservation practices and precision agriculture tools that are most beneficial for crop production and soil health,” Lisa Richardson, executive director of the South Dakota Corn Growers Assn. said.

Callie Eideberg, senior policy manager, ecosystems – sustainable agriculture at Environmental Defense Fund, said the bill is a major step forward for producers.

“With access to USDA data, trusted researchers can transform siloed data points about conservation practices and risk reduction into meaningful information that farmers can use to increase profitability and build resilience to extreme weather,” she said. “Longer term, USDA data availability will also help strengthen the federal crop insurance program by quantifying the impacts that conservation practices have on soil health, yield variability and climate resilience.”



About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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