Have you noticed that farm bill discussions are becoming more contentious with each debate? Support for risk management programs is declining as public skepticism about agriculture rises. Look no further than a letter signed by more than 300 ag groups and sent to Congress last week urging opposition to several damaging farm bill amendments. This is a dangerous reality for farmers and all the more reason we should rally around the Ag Data Act of 2018 (S. 2487).
This bipartisan bill, introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD), could help policymakers and the public understand that evolving farm practices are benefiting something they care a lot about - the environment. This bill uses the power of data to show that our practices are consistent with our commitment to be good stewards of the land.
The aggregation of data with stringent privacy safeguards made possible in this bill will answer important questions about how on-farm conservation practices impact the environment, including soil health and other factors. It will also lead to insights into crop yield that will help my family and fellow farm families nationwide to supply healthy, affordable food for all families.
The bipartisan Klobuchar-Thune bill directs USDA to strengthen its data management systems by establishing a secure and confidential conservation and farm productivity data warehouse to aggregate data so that cutting-edge research and analysis about conservation practices and economic and environmental sustainability are possible. Farmers want to know that the data we already provide can be used for research that will inform and strengthen our practices and farming enterprises, while demonstrating to the public that we are continually learning and improving practices.
Land management practices such as cover crops and no till farming are recognized as practices that enhance soil and water quality. S. 2487 is a smart and necessary approach to help farmers understand how conservation practices produce beneficial results on working lands.
I know from my own experience on our farm in southern Minnesota that reliable data is important to inform any decision about changing our farming practices. The Ag Data Act puts existing data to good use by answering questions vital to our operations: Does improved soil health translate into reduced yield variability and increased productivity? Does it reduce risk? What practices work best in my region?
Robust research will give farmers the certainty we need to adopt new land management practices. Improved data analysis could also strengthen the crop insurance program and ensure it remains defensible. A strong producer safety net backed by actuarially sound research is needed now more than ever.
About the Author: Kristin Weeks Duncanson is an AGree Advisor and owner and partner at Highland Family Farms, a diversified family farm in Mapleton, Minnesota. The operation includes corn, soybeans, vegetables, and hog production. She is a member of the AGree Conservation and Crop Insurance Task Force (CCITF), a consultant to KCOE ISOM’s sustainability group, a board member of the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, past President of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, and a former director of the American Soybean Growers Association.