Big Data Plan For USDA Conservation Programs

The “Agriculture Data Act of 2018” was introduced in early March this year. Its purpose is to gather more information about how USDA-sponsored conservation practices impact profitability and is supported by at least 28 agricultural groups.

It’s sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and cosponsored by Senator John Thune (R-SD). It will amend the Food Security Act of 1985 to gather info by “using an appropriate collection, review and analysis of data.”

“Essentially, they want to get all of the data around conservation programs that USDA has in a single data ‘warehouse,’” says Todd Janzen with Janzen Agricultural Law, LLC. “This would help make the data available in a single location across all parts of USDA, including NRCS, NASS, etc.”

The act would also open data up for universities to use in their research, with restrictions on what kind of data can be published. Notably, individual producer results cannot be published—only the aggregated data.

Right now, the act doesn’t indicate farmers who have been or currently are enrolled in conservation programs will be forced to provide data, Janzen says. “You can obviously see where it’s headed—they’ll say if we’re going to pay you to implement a practice we want to see that data that proves if it’s working or not.”

If passed, it will provide internet-based tools that show productivity and benchmarking for conservation practices for farmers within three years. This could help guide farmer decisions about what conservation practices make sense on their farms.

“We applaud Senators Thune and Klobuchar for legislation that will enable USDA to work across its many agencies and support credentialed researchers in connecting the dots between conservation practices, crop yields and soil health,” says Jim Moseley, former Deputy Secretary of USDA and AGree co-chair. AGree is a group that brings together researchers, producers and academics to increase adoption of conservation practices while maintaining a viable federal crop insurance program. Certain members of AGree are lobbying for this act to move forward.

Read the full act here.