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The Future of Farming: Producer Perspectives on Agriculture Data Innovation

19 July 2021
Deborah Atwood

Advances in precision agriculture technology, remote sensing, and modeling have created a revolution in how data in the agriculture sector is collected and used. Leveraging these new data capabilities for on-farm decision making, research, and public policy is consistently recognized as a key strategy to create more resilient and profitable farms. It is critical that we prioritize the needs and perspectives of farmers and ranchers in this sector-wide effort, since agriculture data innovation depends on producers seeing value in collecting and sharing data about their operations.

AGree hosted a virtual discussion on July 15, 2021 with agriculture sector leaders to explore the business case for agriculture data innovation. We talked about how producers are using and thinking about the role of data and how data can help advance climate-smart agriculture. This post outlines key insights from our conversation about the data systems and investments needed to sustain a resilient and profitable American agriculture sector.

The discussion included Steve Censky, CEO of the American Soybean Association; Jon Doggett, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association; Bill Northey, President of Innovative Growers LLC; and Laura Wood Peterson, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research. Key themes from the conversation include:

  • Farmers have made significant progress over the past decade about how they collect and use data. Farmers are realizing the benefits of data collection, and younger farmers are introducing new ideas about using data to inform farm management and maximize both ecological and agronomic benefits.
  • Aggregating agriculture data across multiple farms is valuable to help farmers and ranchers understand the impacts of farming practices (e.g., what practices can help farms withstand drought and floods).
  • Farmers and ranchers are increasingly recognizing the impacts of climate change. To continue building support for adoption climate-smart agriculture practices, it is critical to communicate to farmers and ranchers about how they can be a part of the solution.
  • Most land in agricultural production is owned by non-operating landowners, which complicates efforts to expand adoption of conservation practices. Validating the benefits of conservation practices can help producers demonstrate the long-term benefits of these practices to landowners.

In order to support agriculture data innovation in the agriculture sector, panelists recommended that USDA and Congress should:

  • Modernize data infrastructure and policies within USDA to create agriculture databases, reform data sharing protocols, and advance data standards and interoperability.
  • Streamline and improve data reporting systems so farmers and ranchers can easily report data to USDA and retrieve their data history.
  • Invest in broadband for rural areas. This is critical to ensuring farmers and ranchers can access data infrastructure and keep the cost of software low.
  • Provide cost-sharing to help farmers and ranchers participate. Producers need support to acquire new precision agriculture equipment and technical assistance to help them analyze the data they are collecting.
  • Ensure producer privacy by creating assurances that producers own their data and their personally identifiable information will not be shared.
  • Increase investments in crop and animal agriculture research. Important areas for research include analyzing the impacts of conservation practices and better understanding the nexus between food and nutrition, environmental health, and production.

The full event can be watched online here.

Watch the opening video by the Yoder Family.


NRCS/SWCS header of cereal rye cover crops photo by Lynn Bett, from the SWCS Conservation Media Library.