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Appeals court orders release of FSA farm data

The Farm Service Agency began releasing sets of complex and statistically detailed databases from FSA files about farming operations throughout the United States on April 28.

The release was required by a Feb. 15 decision of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by a commercial vendor and includes FSA data for all operations owned and operated by individual agricultural producers and closely held family-owned business entities. These files can be used to reveal details of farming operations at a specific geographical location.

The plaintiff had appealed FSA's denial of its July 2005 FOIA request for the farmers’ data. FSA denied the request based on FOIA statute exempting the release of information that “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The U.S. district court initially upheld FSA's denial of the request in August 2006, but in a 2 to 1 decision the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed the lower court, finding that the farming operation data requested was not exempt from disclosure under FOIA. Upon return of the case to the district court, the parties agreed to release the information on April 28, 2008, in compliance with the appellate court's decision.

Records of compliance information to be released include all information in a producer's Farm Compliance Record such as: planting date; reported acreage; official acreage measurements; insurance coverage; type of crop; whether or not the crop is irrigated; intended use of the crop; crop status, including double crop program acreage, experimental, repeat crop acreage, prevented planting or failed crop.

Farm Field Common Land Unit information to be released includes digitized farm field boundaries, classified as farm and/or field boundaries, farm numbers, field numbers, tract numbers, acres, at specific geographic locations using spatial attributes and coordinates.

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