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Agriculture Data, Climate Change, and Infrastructure Investment

15 April 2021
Deborah Atwood

Ongoing budget and infrastructure policy conversations have recognized the importance of data infrastructure and rural broadband in meeting the country’s goals for climate change adaptation and mitigation. AGree is a longstanding champion of bolstering our public food and agriculture research system.

We hosted a virtual panel discussion on April 15, 2021, with leaders in academia and government about how bi-partisan solutions and investment can facilitate the research needed to address climate change. This post outlines key insights from this conversation about the data systems and infrastructure needed to make progress, including highlights of ongoing work by the AGree Economic and Environmental Risk Coalition (AGree E2 Coalition) to advance these goals.

The conversation included NIFA Director Dr. Carrie Castille, Vice Chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Dr. Michael Boehm, and Katie Naessens, Senior Professional Staff Member on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. Key themes from the conversation include:

  • Partnerships are key to advancing innovation in agriculture data collection and analysis, including private-public partnerships, partnerships between government and land-grant institutions, partnerships and coordination between government agencies, and partnerships with farmers. No one institution or organization has the complete set of information, resources, or insights needed to reach our shared goals.
  • A national data warehouse that allows famers and researchers to access accumulated and anonymized data sets can support American agricultural innovation. Much of the data we need to implement a climate-smart agriculture research agenda is already being collected by farmers, researchers, and private companies. Creating a cooperative space to share and access that data will unleash innovation. Ensuring that those who input data have control over what their data is used for is an important element of constructing a data warehouse.
  • Prioritizing that diverse producers, cropping systems, and land grant institutions are involved in developing climate solutions is imperative to addressing the challenge of climate change and historic injustices in our agriculture system.
  • Working directly with farmers to co-create policy solutions is key, including ensuring farmers are receiving the benefits of research and analysis. We must have diverse producer perspectives to know what will work on the ground. Technology transfer and technical assistance networks are key parts of ensuring solutions are implemented.
  • We must ensure that a climate smart agriculture research agenda is outcomes-based and results-driven to utilize the resources we have most effectively.

The full event can be watched online here.

AGree E2 Coalition’s Conservation and Crop Insurance Research Pilot

The AGree E2 Coalition has been working to advance improvements in agriculture data infrastructure and innovation since before the 2018 Farm Bill (Read more about the AGree E2 Coalition’s work on agriculture data here). This work on agriculture data access and integration has culminated in the Conservation and Crop Insurance Research Pilot. This pilot is being implemented in partnership with USDA and the University of Illinois, to analyze USDA and third-party datasets to assess the connection between conservation practices and risk from extreme weather events.

This research pilot establishes a framework for collaboration between USDA and land grant universities to facilitate research that will assist USDA in carrying out its missions in the areas of conservation and crop risk management. By conducting this analysis with USDA datasets, the pilot will demonstrate how existing USDA datasets across multiple agencies can be analyzed together to unlock important new insights about conservation and risk management. In addition, the pilot will explore how datasets across multiple USDA agencies work together, and where useful data is missing, which can inform USDA’s efforts to improve data collection, integration, and analysis. The pilot will also inform the delivery of conservation technical assistance to farmers by evaluating the effects of conservation practices, specifically cover crops and no-till, on risk management.

We believe that facilitating analysis of USDA data about agricultural practices and farm profitability by trusted external researchers is essential to demonstrate the connections between conservation practices, agricultural risk, and farm profitability. Our hope is to pave the way for innovations in agriculture data sharing and analysis that will facilitate important research initiatives and inform agricultural policy, crop insurance ratings, technical assistance programs at USDA, and farmer decision-making.