Remarks by Secretary Tom Vilsack
G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture
Good Morning. Thank you for the kind introduction.
I would like to welcome you to Washington, D.C. to the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture. For those who have traveled great distances to be here with us, I want to thank you in particular for your commitment to agriculture, and your interest in economic development and food security in your home nation. I would also like to welcome the audience that is joining the conference via the web.
It is my pleasure to serve as the head of the U.S. delegation and I would like to thank the U.S. delegates from across our Government who are joining me here today.
As many of you know, the United States took lead responsibility in planning this conference in close coordination with G-8 colleagues.
This conference would not be possible without the committed support of those G-8 colleagues. I would like to recognize the United Kingdom, who holds the 2013 G-8 Presidency, for their support leading up to the conference and we look forward to further collaboration leading up to the 2013 Summit.
I would also like to recognize and thank USDA Under Secretary and Chief Scientist, Dr. Catherine Woteki for her devoted leadership in the planning and preparation of the conference. No one is more committed to strengthening the critical science behind agricultural production than Dr. Woteki. This conference reflects her commitment to a strong agricultural research enterprise that will benefit people around the world.
I would like to also thank Todd Park, White House Chief Technology Officer, and his team, for their efforts and participation. Last but not least, I would like to thank the World Bank for partnering with the G-8 to host the conference. And thank you, Rachel, for the generous hospitality of your organization. Our partnership further illustrates the importance of this critical issue.
We're here today because together, we face a crucial challenge in figuring out how we will feed a growing global population in a sustainable way. Particularly in the developing world, there is tremendous opportunity for G-8 nations and others to provide solutions through shared capacity building tools.
Greater access to these tools will allow farmers and ranchers around the world to produce more, increase access to food, and ultimately provide ladders of opportunity with improved incomes for people in rural places around the world.
Data – all of the information we have acquired through groundbreaking research and investigation – is and will be a critical factor in this effort.
It has quickly become one of the most important aspects in expanding agriculture's reach. Access to research data has already yielded some of the most important breakthroughs in modern life. And this week, we seek to work together to identify more breakthroughs and to expand their benefits.
As we begin this discussion, I'd like to take a few moments to go a bit deeper on what we mean by "open data" and share with you some of the progress we already have made as a result of open data efforts.
To set the tone for a productive and insightful conference, I need to discuss a vision for the years to come with regard to agricultural data.
So what is open data?
Open data is a broad concept, but one that has many specific uses. Simply put, open data means making data available without restriction in formats that both humans and machines can easily read and use.
The fact is, we are making new advancements in agricultural technology every day. We're doing amazing things in countries all around the world. But as important as the technological advancements themselves are, we also recognize that data in isolation is not as powerful as data shared.
Never before has the world been able to collect so much data on such a wide range of topics – from weather conditions – to crop growth – to nutrition.
We magnify the effects of data collection by making that data freely available to the public in useable formats, without restriction or charge for its use by others. This is the concept we now recognize as "open data." For many who work intimately in the agricultural sector, the concept of open data is relatively new. But at its core, open data is something humankind has engaged in for centuries.
The open exchange of information, practices, technologies and teachings passed down through generations over the past ten thousand years laid the foundation for the modern agricultural enterprise.
It has also generated significant economic benefits. For example, the release of weather data fueled production of television channels, websites and apps that returns more than $4 billion dollars annually to the U.S. economy.
The release of Global Positioning System technology has created an industry worth an estimated $90 billion to the U.S. economy. Both of these contribute to improved agricultural systems that allow farmers to be more productive and competitive.
Today, 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.
For example, the advent of the Haber-Bosch process to manufacture fertilizer allowed for an enormous increase in productivity. Today, GPS-guided planters and combines using open data are increasing yields and advancing precision agriculture, optimizing growth while limiting inputs. It's amazing to me that today's John Deere precision tractors come with more than 10 million lines of computer code – an astonishing leap from the tractors used by our predecessors as little as 50 years ago – and those tractors are possible as a result of GPS and other new technology.
Advancements like those are made when we work together, share data with one another and pool our resources. There is always opportunity to do more. While today's farmer might use a weather application drawing from satellite imagery, rather than a farmer's almanac, our future farmers will turn to mobile devices and applications like never before.
This phenomenon is already taking hold in the U.S. and around the world.
In Kenya, dairy farmers are using a text messaging service called "iCow" to tell them when their cows are in heat, what feed to use to boost their milk output and what a fair market price would be for them.
Open data will also help us to combat food insecurity today, while laying the groundwork for a sustainable agriculture infrastructure prepared to feed a population that is projected to be more than 9 billion by 2050.
One example of open data already being put to use to shore up food security centers on the United States Government's Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or "FEWSNET." FEWSNET was developed after devastating famines in East and West Africa to collect and analyze data that could predict food shortages. Today it is a valuable resource to governments, international relief agencies, NGOs, and researchers. All of these folks use FEWSNET to plan for and respond to on humanitarian crises around the world.
The U.S. also worked on a model with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank to aid developing nations in preparing for outbreaks of Rift Valley fever, a disease carried by mosquitoes that can kill livestock and people.
The model uses open data from satellites to monitor vegetation growth. By doing so, we can predict when and where disease-spreading insects could become a problem, and take proactive steps to prevent or mitigate the consequences. The model has saved lives and is being adapted to predict outbreaks of other diseases.
We have also taken steps toward open data for agricultural research.
For example, we are proud of our partnership to support the Germplasm Resources Information Network or "GRIN-Global."
This series of plant and microbial collections provides a way to curate, store and make genetic resources available for researchers around the globe. Preserved genetic resources help safeguard biological diversity in the face of an often-threatened environment.
If a particular type of crop is under stress in a particular region, plant genetic resource collections provide a means for ensuring plant resilience.
GRIN-Global serves as the keystone for attaining a sustainable, rational, efficient, and effective global network of gene banks.
This allows us to identify and permanently safeguard our plant genetic resources.
Additionally, the U.S. plays a leadership role in the United Nations Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics. Through this effort, we provide capacity building support for the development and improvement of national agricultural and rural statistics. If we know the facts about agriculture, governments or outside groups in any nation will be in a better position to provide appropriate help. So we certainly have seen what open data can do. We know its tremendous power.
Today we are taking the next steps.
This conference will seek to unify countries behind accelerating the development of other tools to shore up food security around the world. That begins with new efforts to open data from countries that have a great deal of it to share. It all begins with open data.
Even as we prepared for this conference, we quickly learned that there are varying degrees of knowledge of the open data concept – varying from country to country, from industry to industry.
We all know that we have much to learn about open data. We have structured the conference agenda to ensure that by the end of conference, everyone will have the same level of understanding of the open data concept, and its critical importance to the agricultural sector and our food security efforts.
Though we have made great progress toward open data in recent years, we must learn more, and share in a vision for what open data can provide in the generations to come.
As President Obama made clear on his first day in office, the United States is committed to an unprecedented level of openness in government, and that includes open data. Through this commitment to open government, we are working in the U.S. to ensure the public trust through a system built on transparency, public participation, and collaboration.
This level of openness has the ability to promote efficiency and effectiveness in government around the world.
As you will learn throughout the next two days, data is among the most important commodities in the world. By making our data accessible and encouraging others to do the same, we will enable collaborations of data users that will spur innovation and drive economic growth. By democratizing data we will unlock the unlimited opportunity that agriculture holds for economic growth in rural areas. We can create innovative tools needed to confront the enormous challenges of reducing poverty, improving nutrition and sustainably intensifying agricultural production.
For the United States government, stronger open data measures are and will continue to be about making data from projects and programs open and available for use by taxpayers and others around the world.
For the G-8 and other bilateral and multilateral partnerships, open data is an opportunity to enable the most effective and efficient use of limited resources.
Finally, for the private sector and other non-government organizations, open data is an opportunity to strengthen partnerships with governments around the world, while reaping the benefits of open government data.
USDA has authority to enter into partnerships around critical research questions, and we are interested in partnering with agricultural research institutions and private sector alike to further open data.
This commitment extends to the libraries and reels of historical data that, too often, remains locked in outdated and difficult to use formats. All of us must be committed to effective and efficient service within limited resources. Today, we must know what others are doing – and others must know what we are doing.
For the U.S. this certainly includes both critical scientific data and data regarding regulatory decisions – especially in the area of agriculture.
As we work together to promote coexistence in agriculture – an issue that is not just a U.S. matter, but a global one as well – we can benefit from understanding how decisions were made on new products and technology. This is information that other countries can use to help them address similar regulatory concerns in an efficient and timely manner. The U.S. has been a leader in making information about its regulatory actions on genetically engineered seeds, for example, available to other nations so they may better synchronize their regulatory processes.
This is critical so these technologies will arrive to market sooner, ultimately benefitting the farmer, the consumer and those in need while avoiding trade disruption.
My hope is that this meeting will serve as a platform to share some of these best practices as we formulate new ways to share data.
That's why, to open this conference, I am proud to announce that the United States will launch a new virtual community for Food, Agriculture and Rural issues on our data-sharing web site – www.data.gov.
This new online community will serve to catalogue America's publicly available agricultural data. It will increase the ability of the public to easily find, download, and use datasets that are generated and held by the U.S. Government.
The U.S. has already created a data catalogue through the data.gov web site to increase public access to high value, machine-readable datasets – that today will now extend to agriculturally-relevant data.
This is one more step in President Obama's effort to ensure that the direct results of federal scientific research are made available and useful for the public, industry, and the scientific community.
This new online community is a big step toward opening information for agriculture, making it public in useable formats.
This will increase the value of the investments U.S. taxpayers make in agricultural research, create a data ecosystem that will fuel economic growth, and help drive the agricultural innovation needed to meet our global food security challenges.
The new virtual community will enable entrepreneurship, empowerment and better participation in solving our global challenges. It will help innovators by providing datasets that anyone can download to build applications, conduct analyses, and perform research.
Additionally, we are already working with partners worldwide to provide federated access to selected food, agricultural and rural data made accessible by other countries and industry. We welcome additional partners.
Working together to provide open access to this valuable commodity will make our collective task of feeding our burgeoning global population possible, achievable and manageable.
This work could not be more important, or more timely. I hope that you will find these two days to be helpful and insightful as we work together to open more agricultural data around the world, help build up opportunity for rural people everywhere, and find new ways to sustainably grow more food in preparation for a rising population.
Worldwide movements begin at their own pace and build on a shared recognition of interest. We believe our countries and others have the power within their hands to solve some of the most crucial challenges facing us today. And together, we are here to recognize that open agricultural data is a critical step in the right direction,
Thank you again for attending the conference. I hope for great advancements in our shared commitment to open data by the end of our two days together.