I recently co-authored* a paper for AGree that explains how USDA can harness the power of ag data to improve conservation programs. Here is an excerpt, with a link to the original paper.
The last five years have witnessed an explosion of online cloud-based platforms that promise to revolutionize farming. These platforms collect agriculture data, such as yield data, soil type, rainfall, fertility and dozens of other data points across entire fields. The promise from these platforms is enormous, causing agricultural companies like John Deere and DowDuPont to invest millions to create data warehouses. Likewise, the promise has lured new ag tech startups into the data warehouse market from Silicon Valley, to the Great Plains, to the Corn Belt. These cloud-based ag data warehouses all share one feature—they all promise to help farmers produce more with fewer inputs.
One of the ways ag data platforms promise improvement on the farm is through benchmarking field performance with other, similar fields. Because many farmers are leery of sharing ag data information with unknown third parties or even known neighbors, private industry has developed ways to “anonymize” data so that information can be shared with little risk to the farmer. The industry has also stepped in and created an “Ag Data Transparent” seal to recognize honesty and transparency. The result is that many farmers have embraced ag data sharing platforms.
In many ways, USDA has been left out of this on-farm revolution. USDA lacks a common warehouse for the data it already collects, and lacks an infrastructure plan for further data collection across all agencies of the Department. This is detrimental to taxpayers, to agencies within USDA that rely on good data when making decisions, and to universities and researchers that could safely utilize this data to improve farming. This paper examines the USDA’s need for a centralized data warehouse and a coordinated data collection strategy that would increase intra-agency efficiency and allow researchers and universities access to study production and conservation data. Of course, the ultimate beneficiary is the U.S. farmer.
Read entire paper: USDA and Ag Data: Improving Productivity while Protecting Privacy
AGree drives positive change in the food and agriculture system by connecting and challenging leaders from diverse communities to catalyze action and elevate food and agriculture as a national priority. AGree is housed at Meridian Institute, whose mission is to help people solve problems, make informed decisions, and find solutions to some of society’s most complex and controversial issues.
*Thank you to Laurie Ristino, law professor at Vermont Law School, for agreeing to co-author.