BOX 4-1 Federal Data Collection Efforts

Most federal data collection efforts centering around agricultural production are derived from an extension model where enumerators or scientists from federal agencies collected relatively sparse data from farms, summarized and analyzed the data, and published findings for state or regional aggregates, sometimes by broad classes of farms. The producer's role in this process was passive: responding to questions posed by agency personnel and receiving published reports, sometimes with assistance from extension personnel to see how the results applied to their producer's particular farm.

Precision agriculture data collection has the potential to revise this model in several important ways, because producers are now able to collect far more specific and detailed data more efficiently than federal agencies can. In this new paradigm, producers, or their consultants and suppliers, would collect the data on a precision basis, perhaps according to some standardized metadata protocol. The data would be gathered in centralized databases or data warehouses run by agencies, cooperatives, industry groups, or private enterprises. Agencies may pay producers for data collection or may pay intermediary data cooperatives or firms for access to the databases. Agencies may produce the same kinds of summary reports for the public as in the past, but may make available more specific and detailed analyses for individual producers, or may provide detailed databases for producers and their advisors to use. The producer's role in this system would be more active because the data collection would be designed primarily to serve the producer's information needs and only secondarily to contribute to a larger database. The agency's role would be less about deciding what questions to ask and more about investigating what can be learned from the available data. Some of the more prominent examples of federal agency data collection efforts that could be transformed in a world where precision agriculture is widely adopted are briefly explored below.


The primary sources of information for the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) are farmers and ranchers, livestock feeders, slaughterhouse managers, grain elevator operators, and other agribusiness personnel. NASS relies on survey respondents' cooperation in voluntarily supplying data for the reports, and NASS holds confidential all data on individual operations. Objective yield surveys are conducted during the growing season to monitor crop conditions and yields in thousands of fields by enumerators who count the number of plants and, later in the season, count and measure ears, pods, bolls, and so on. The crop development

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