The Senate version of the Farm Bill contained the full version of the Ag Data Act of 2018, which sought to streamline USDA data collection for conservation practices to make such data available to USDA, farmers, and researchers. (Read about the full version here: Ag Data Act). The House version did not include the act. After conference, the final passed text of the 2018 Farm Bill includes only part of the Ag Data Act. So which part made the compromise bill?
The remaining portion of the Ag Data Act has two parts. First, the USDA should identify the data sets it already has available that related to conservation practices and the effects on farm and ranch profitability. Second, the USDA should provide a summary report to the US House’s Committee on Agriculture detailing the data sets it has available, how those datasets can be provided to university researchers with appropriate safeguards for data privacy, and what authorizations are needed from Congress to maximize the potential for research benefits.
While lacking the specifics of the original text, the final language can accomplish most of the same goals. The original text required USDA provide tools for farmers to use the collected data and make the data available to university researchers. The final bill does not mandate these outcomes, but there is little reason the USDA cannot undertake these initiatives on its own.
Overall, this is a step in the right direction for making government collected data useful to farmers and researchers. If we are going to use taxpayer money for conservation, we should make sure it works.
The entire text of the included act is below. For more information, here is AGree’s press release: Farm Bill Conference Report Takes First Step to Harness Agriculture Data and Secures Conservation Wins
SEC. 1247. DATA ON CONSERVATION PRACTICES.
‘(a) DATA ON CONSERVATION PRACTICES.—The Secretary shall identify available data sets within the Department of Agriculture regarding the use of conservation practices and the effect of such practices on farm and ranch profitability (including such effects relating to crop yields, soil health, and other risk-related factors).
(b) REPORT.—Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, the Secretary shall submit to the Committee on Agriculture of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry of the Senate a report that includes—
(1) a summary of the data sets identified under subsection (a);
(2) a summary of the steps the Secretary would have to take to provide access to such data sets by university researchers, including taking into account any technical, privacy, or administrative considerations;
(3) a summary of safeguards the Secretary employs when providing access to data to university researchers;
(4) a summary of appropriate procedures to maximize the potential for research benefits while preventing any violations of privacy or confidentiality; and
(5) recommendations for any necessary authorizations or clarifications of Federal law to allow access to such data sets to maximize the potential for research benefits..