We are on the cusp of a critical leap forward in agriculture related to data. This advancement will provide critical information to farmers who are working continuously to produce more using fewer resources. Improved data analysis will also help us extract meaning from data already being collected but not being utilized to its fullest potential. We know many on-farm practices are benefiting the environment, and this data could help verify them. 

This leap is provided for in the 2018 farm bill. It requires USDA to produce a report that outlines data currently collected about conservation practices and the effects of those practices on crop yields, farm and ranch profitability, and soil health. USDA must then summarize the data and steps needed to provide secure data access to university researchers. Additionally, the farm bill calls for improved crop insurance guidance on cover crops, which would support conservation adoption on more acres.

As members of AGree's Conservation & Crop Insurance Task Force, we recognize the importance of this progress. For years, farmers have led the way in the use of technology and data to accomplish important things such as soil protection, reduced water usage, and fewer crop protection applications. Their reward is often an improved bottom line, which is important given that farmers endure enormous price volatility. Making better use of data being collected by USDA is an important step in this journey. It will expand insights and provide validation for land management decisions. 

This provision may seem like a small step for USDA, but we understand small is not synonymous with easy. USDA has been evolving to serve American agriculture since its creation in 1862. We have every confidence that Team USDA is up for the challenge, but we also understand that crossing agency silos – ensuring above all that producer privacy is protected – will require both collaboration and determination. Our message is that we stand ready to help. Our Task Force members are experts willing to devote whatever time it takes to work with USDA, ensuring a positive impact on farmers, ranchers, and the environment. In fact, our experts have already begun to devise practical strategies to help USDA harness the power of its agriculture data efficiently and securely. It’s that important to us.  

It’s also critical. Key learnings await us. Swift action will benefit farmers, the crop insurance program, and USDA itself. Farmers will gain knowledge grounded in real data, not theory and anecdotes. The crop insurance program is under increasing scrutiny so aligning it with practices that help to preserve our natural resources, based on solid data, strengthens it. In fact, the same could be said of USDA overall. With so much of the population disconnected from agriculture, demonstrating the ability to overcome barriers and make use of data for the benefit not only of farmers, but of our planet, will be compelling to many taxpayers. For USDA, this is an important investment in the future: improved ag data integration will improve USDA’s ability to provide guidance to farmers, the effectiveness of USDA programs, and the overall value USDA delivers. It will also ensure that USDA can continue to provide customer service and maximize efficiency to better meet the needs of farmers and ranchers across the country.

We want to thank the Congressional sponsors including Senators Thune (R-SD) and Klobuchar (D-MN), committee leaders, and members who supported theses important provisions. A collective cheer rang out when the farm bill passed with these provisions, led by producers, commodity groups, supply chain companies, conservation groups and our task force.

We recognize that the real work is just beginning. We, as a task force, have no intention of being armchair quarterbacks. We are willing to roll-up our sleeves, help overcome inter-agency barriers and advise on solutions that protect data privacy. That’s our offer and our commitment. That’s part of our way: serving as a platform for connecting diverse ag interests, building consensus, advocating for smart policies, and ultimately achieving meaningful results that benefit American agriculture.