Opinion

Data Will Empower Smart Farming Practices

It’s increasingly rare for a piece of legislation to cross the political divide so completely that members on both sides of the aisle see that it makes good sense. That’s the case for S. 2487, the Ag Data Act of 2018, and for good reason: We hear a lot about smartphones, smart cars and smart houses; this bill empowers smarter farms through the smarter use of data. And this doesn’t mean giving away the farm in terms of data privacy. S. 2487 ensures that data will be aggregated to protect producer privacy. This is critically important in the age of big data.

I applaud Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) for introducing this bill, which will help us understand how evolving farm practices are benefiting something we all care a lot about – the environment. As a farmer, nothing is more important to me than ensuring the soil, water and other natural resources that are essential to my livelihood, continue to be healthy and available. The bottom line is that this bill will help my family and fellow farm families uphold our commitment to be good stewards of the land, while also providing insights into crop yield and profitability that will help us sustain our operations for years to come.

In fact, a bipartisan coalition of producers, national and state commodity groups, supply chain companies, and environmental and conservation groups have signed a letter to Agriculture Committee leaders urging them to support the bill and commending Sens. Thune and Klobuchar. The coalition writes, “We are united in support of innovative policies like S. 2487 that remove roadblocks and increase adoption of practices that enhance soil health, wildlife habitat, and secure cost-savings for American farmers through federal crop insurance and conservation programs.”

In practical terms, the Ag Data Act 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 our practices.

Land management practices such as cover crops and no-till farming are recognized as practices that enhance soil and water quality. The bipartisan Klobuchar-Thune bill is a commonsense approach to help farmers understand how conservation practices produce beneficial results on working lands.

The Ag Data Act puts existing data to better use by answering questions vital to our operations: Does improved soil health translate into reduced yield variability? Does it reduce risk? What practices work best in my region? As every farmer knows, a practice that might work great on my farm in Indiana may be disastrous on a farm in Oregon. Data analysis will help us piece together a nationwide puzzle of best practices.

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. That’s why I’m grateful to Sens. Klobuchar and Thune for introducing the Ag Data Act. I urge all senators to support it.

Jim Moseley is an Indiana farmer, former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and AGree co-chair.

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