As Congress begins putting together the framework for the 2018 Farm Bill, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), both members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, have jointly introduced bipartisan legislation to improve agriculture data research of conservation practices.
"One of the greatest challenges with applying the most effective conservation practices, like cover crops on working lands, is measuring the economic value these practices can provide, such as increased crop yields on subsequent crops," said Thune. "This legislation would help farmers and land-grant universities better utilize USDA's massive collection of conservation data and enable them to choose the best conservation practices that would improve productivity on farming operations."
Designed to require USDA to take a proactive role in assembling and compiling the conservation data it collects into a data warehouse, this data could be much better utilized by land-grant universities and USDA secretary-approved private researchers to help quantify the value of placing conservation practices on the land. Farmers would then be able to use this data to determine which conservation practices would work the best on their land to improve soil health and increase profitability.
Anytime data is collected, there is concern about how secure the information remains; however, Thune said current privacy laws regarding the USDA's collection of personal information would continue to keep personal information safe and secure. Currently, the USDA manages and stores this valuable producer data; however, it would remain confidential under the current laws, and, under the provisions of this legislation, would never be publicly divulged.
“Minnesota farmers and researchers understand that using proven conservation practices can improve water quality and soil health while enhancing crop yields
—that’s why I introduced the Agriculture Data Act of 2018 with Sen. Thune. This bipartisan legislation will direct the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to collect, collate, integrate, and link data about conservation practices to share with our farmers. This legislation will ensure hardworking farmers are able to capitalize on the USDA’s resources to streamline their operations, enhance yields, and increase profits.”Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Additionally, he pointed out that there would be little, if any, costs should this legislation pass, as existing USDA personnel and data processing equipment would be used to fulfill the requirements of the legislation.
"South Dakota farmers extensively use conservation tillage, such as minimum till and no-till farming methods, along with crop rotations that utilize cover crops, such as turnips and radishes and legumes planted in wheat and small grain stubble," said Thune. "Farmers have experienced this, and they know there is an economic benefit due to increased yields resulting from using nearly all conservation practices and programs, yet this information has never been adequately quantified."
For example, if this legislation were to pass, it would be beneficial to production agriculture as it would result in a wealth of available information regarding the use of cover crops and would further quantify yield increases.
"This information could be used to develop policy that would allow crop insurance premiums to be reduced on this land because of increased yields and reduced indemnities," he said.
What's more, the legislation paints a clear picture to the general public of how committed producers are to sustainably managing the land and how beneficial conservation practices are to soil health.
"Minnesota farmers and researchers understand that using proven conservation practices can improve water quality and soil health while enhancing crop yields—that's why I introduced the Agriculture Data Act of 2018 with Senator Thune," said Senator Klobuchar. "This bipartisan legislation will direct the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to collect, collate, integrate, and link data about conservation practices to share with our farmers. This legislation will ensure hardworking farmers are able to capitalize on the USDA's resources to streamline their operations, enhance yields, and increase profits."
Senator Thune and Senator Klobuchar intend to include this legislation in the next Farm Bill, and they aren't aware of any outspoken criticism or opposition to this legislation that would hinder it from moving forward. Already, the South Dakota Corn Growers Association (SDCGA) has offered its support to this legislation.
In a recent press release from Senator Thune's office, Lisa Richardson, SDCGA executive director, "Conservation is a key element of South Dakota's production agriculture landscape, and there's an urgent need to learn more about the value of conservation practices in enhancing crop production, improving soil health, and reducing risk. The Agriculture Data Act of 2018 could provide land-grant universities, such as South Dakota State University University, better access to USDA-compiled conservation data, resulting in more accurate recommendations for conservation practices and precision agriculture tools that are most beneficial for crop production and soil health."
Organizations including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and AGree have also spoken out in favor of this legislation.
"With access to USDA data, trusted researchers can transform siloed data points about conservation practices and risk reduction into meaningful information that farmers can use to increase profitability and build resilience to extreme weather. This bipartisan bill is a major step forward for producers," said Callie Eideberg, EDF senior policy manager of Ecosystems — Sustainable Agriculture, in an official statement. "Longer term, USDA data availability will also help strengthen the federal crop insurance program by quantifying the impacts that conservation practices have on soil health, yield variability and climate resilience."
"This timely legislation will enable the USDA to work across its many agencies and support researchers in analyzing data and connecting the dots between conservation practices, crop yields, and soil health," said Jim Moseley, AGree co-chair and former USDA deputy secretary. "We applaud Senators Thune and Klobuchar for laying the groundwork to make use of USDA's vast data resources for the benefit of American producers and trusted agricultural researchers."
Currently, the Agriculture Data Act has been introduced and referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture. Follow its progress by visiting https://www.thune.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/co-sponsored-legislation.