Data: The Farming Defense Mechanism

There exists an underlying idea that data is an annoying tool that is used in the academic realm for science and theory. To many, ‘data collection’ brings to mind images of stuffy scientists conducting field experiments for an academic journal. In fact, data collection almost seems inaccessible, reserved for major academic institutions and research teams. For that reason, it may be hard to see the importance of collecting data for a smaller scale, like a farm or a market. Tracking the progress of a plot of heirloom tomatoes over time may seem like a casual annoyance in the scope of all that you have to do to get your product to market. Small farmers have consistently faced challenges bringing their food to market. Policy and subsidies favor large-scale growers in a way that can make it difficult for smaller operations to compete. As agricultural funding garners more attention in the political realm, the uncertainties that farming faces can appear magnified for small-scale growers.

For perspective, the federal funds that support agriculture are covered under the FARM bill ( a bill used to fund nutrition and agricultural programs across the US) in the amount of $489 billion, a fraction of which directly supports small-scale farming.

The FARM bill break-down:

  • The FARM bill = $489 billion USD
  • Of this $489 billion, 79% of it is allocated to SNAP/nutrition programs which accounts for ~ $400 billion USD
  • The remaining 21% goes to:
    • Crop insurance, commodity programs, conservation, etc.

The bill goes up for renewal every four years, making 2018 its next renewal cycle. Of the 21% of the bill used to cover agricultural programs, a smaller fraction has direct benefits to farmers. With so much on the chopping block in this renewal cycle, it is imperative that farmers find ways to defend the funds allocated to small-medium scale farming.

The work to preserve the unique space that small scale farming has in food production becomes increasingly fragile because preservation, at its core, is a mechanism of defense. At this point in time, the best defensive move that can be made to preserve small-scale farming lies in the data. Think of data as a way to tell a story through numbers. Data can be used to communicate success, production and output, how well a certain program or product did at increasing yields, the number of visitors and much more. These stories need to be communicated to policy makers.  As the FARM Bill goes up for renewal in 2018, we must find ways to engage in the fight to fund small-scale agriculture, and collecting data is the best way to do that.

GFMA is developing a number of resources to collect and aggregate data on behalf of farmers and markets across the state. We are inspired by our hard-working membership base to develop these tools. We know the impact that farmers and our local markets have in shaping community, and we recognize how important it is to have research-based representation in the coming years. GFMA aims to support the efforts of local growers in Georgia. There is no better way to do that than to encourage our members to take the lead in data collection.