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Emerging issue: Data Privacy and Performance Metrics

Image credit: Getty Images
Date Posted: May 17, 2022

Whether a farmer is participating in programs to protect water quality, reduce greenhouse gases, protect food safety, or receive incentives for responsible practices, data collection is essential to verify both practice implementation and that the programs have the intended effect. However, protecting confidential business information, Personally Identifiable Information (PII), or information that can be used to trace an individual’s identity, is important for farmers’ success. Maintaining data privacy is also necessary to protect farmers from being targeted by activist organizations seeking to justify regulations, lawsuits, or harassment.

Some government and university programs and research only release aggregated data (research area, watershed, or county). However, protecting PII and aggregating data is time-consuming, expensive, and may not always be protected from disclosure in legal challenges. Many private, state, and federal programs therefore cannot offer this protection – or if they do, the aggregation of data is at scales too large or too small to determine program effectiveness. Providing data on practices is crucial to demonstrating farmers’ protection of water, soil, air, climate, and public health. Farmers need trusted resources to collect, aggregate, and share key performance metrics with policy makers.

Policy References

MFB Policy #37, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service – Great Lakes Field Office

MFB Policy #76, Environmental Protection and Authority

MFB Policy #82, Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program

AFBF Policy #157, Media

AFBF Policy #236, Environmental Management Systems

AFBF Policy #336, Agricultural Chemicals

AFBF Policy #455 Agricultural Reports

AFBF Policy #536, Proprietary Data

Additional Resources

MAEAP Annual Legislative Report

Ag Data Transparent

NRCS Conservation Effects Assessment Projects

Congressional Research Service Report: Agriculture and Forestry Offsets in Carbon Markets

USDA Good Agricultural Practices

Thoughts to Consider

  • Should trusted resources such as Farm Bureaus, land grant universities, companies, or state or federal agencies seek legal protections to allow them to gather farm data for release only in an aggregated form? If so, how should this data collection be conducted and paid for?
  • How can data collection and aggregation be streamlined so farmers do not have to submit the same data multiple times to satisfy different program requirements?
Media Contacts
Laura Campbell headshot

Laura Campbell

Senior Conservation & Regulatory Relations Specialist
517-679-5332 [email protected]
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