Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, along with Bill Gates, and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, today kicked off a two-day international open data conference, saying that data “is among the most important commodities in agriculture” and sharing it openly increases its value.

Secretary Vilsack, as head of the U.S. government delegation to the conference, announced the launch of a new “virtual community” as part of a suite of actions, including the release of new data, that the United States is taking to give farmers and ranchers, scientists, policymakers and other members of the public easy access to publicly funded data to help increase food security and nutrition.

“The digital revolution fueled by open data is starting to do for the modern world of agriculture what the industrial revolution did for agricultural productivity over the past century,” Vilsack says. “Open access to data will help combat food insecurity today, while laying the groundwork for a sustainable agricultural system to feed a population that is projected to be more than nine billion by 2050.”

The virtual Food, Agriculture and Rural data community launched today on Data.gov – the U.S. government's data sharing Web site – catalogs America's publicly available agricultural data and increases the ability of the public to find, download and use datasets that are generated and held by the federal government. The data community features a collection of more than 300 newly cataloged datasets, databases and raw data sources related to food, agriculture and rural issues from agencies across the U.S. government.

In addition to the data catalog, the virtual community shares a number of applications, maps and tools designed to help farmers, scientists and policymakers improve global food security and nutrition.

At the conference, the U.S. government is also releasing an action plan to highlight a number of new and ongoing U.S. government efforts including:

  • A partnership to support plant and microbial gene bank collections that curate, store and make genetic resources available via the Germplasm Resources Information Network or GRIN-Global;
  • U.S. leadership in the United Nations Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics, providing capacity-building support for development and improvement of national agricultural and rural statistics; and
  • U.S. government efforts underway to develop national policies and implementation plans that ensure direct results of federally funded scientific research are made available and useful for the public, industry and the scientific community, which will effectively implement the White House memorandum titled Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research, released earlier this year.

The action plan will also include announcements of new, publicly available datasets from the Millennial Challenge Corporation (MCC), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), USDA and others. The private and non-profit sectors will also announce the release of their own data sets at the conference.

The conference and the U.S. actions supporting open agricultural data fulfill the Open Data for Agriculture commitment made as part of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which was launched by President Obama and G-8 partners at the 2012 G-8 Leaders Summit last year at Camp David, MD.

In his remarks, Vilsack thanked the G-8, particularly the United Kingdom, which holds the 2013 G-8 presidency; New Alliance partner countries attending or tuning in to the conference livestream from Sub-Saharan Africa; and the World Bank, for partnering with the G-8 to hold the conference.

Secretary Vilsack heads the U.S. government delegation to the conference and USDA's Chief Scientist Catherine Wotek, is acting as alternate head of delegation and providing scientific guidance. The U.S. delegation includes wide representation from federal agencies including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); Department of State; Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC); National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and National Science Foundation.

For more information on the conference, please visit the conference website or email G8AGOPENDATA@osec.usda.gov. Watch the conference through a live web feed here, follow or contribute to the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #OpenAgData.