A new report from the AGree initiative and The Data Foundation assesses several ways to protect the privacy of USDA data that’s used to assess the impact of farming practices.

It’s likely impractical for USDA to maintain a data library itself, given USDA’s existing infrastructure limitations, policies, and legal authority, says the report released Tuesday.

On the other hand, managing data under a public-private partnership “offers the appeal of leveraging government authorities for data protection and resources, and the flexibilities of the private sector, including protecting proprietary information.”

Meanwhile, ongoing discussions to establish a National Secure Data Service that would be part of the National Science Foundation “offer a model that would present a highly secure environment” for data, the report says.

Gaps in legal authority, privacy concerns and other issues have prevented USDA data from being used as well as it could be to assess how farming practices affect profitability and environmental outcomes, the report says. The AGree Economic and Environmental Risk Coalition, part of the Meridian Institute, has been a leading advocate for expanding the analysis of data USDA has on commodity and conservation programs as well as crop insurance. 

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“Each of the considered models offers opportunities for collaboration with farmers and other stakeholders to ensure there are clear benefits and to address the shortfalls in the current system,” the report says.

“Careful consideration of the trade-offs of each option is critical given the dynamic weather and economic challenges the agriculture sector faces and the potential new economic opportunities that may be unlocked by harnessing the power of data,” the report says.

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