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The Spatial Place of GIS in Government Agriculture

States and provinces are involved in many types of monitoring, licensing, and certification programs that benefit from GIS. Food safety inspections and permitting, typically carried out by state agencies to ensure foodstuffs are wholesome and correctly labeled, require coordination among multiple agencies. This coordination is necessary for policy development and actual inspections that are handled at the local level. Managing the inspection process--from processing applications and collecting fees through tracking inspections and even routing inspectors--can be improved using GIS.

Organic farming, one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture since the 1990s, depends on the public's confidence that food products were grown and handled in a specific manner. States with State Organic Programs (SOPs) certify producers, enforce handling standards, and maintain program compliance and must document various aspects of management--tillage history, field inputs, crop rotations, and pest management measures--on a field by field basis. GIS is an especially effective tool for this type of regulation.

Streamlining the operations of agencies that regulate food processors benefits regulated companies and the consumer. GIS can prioritize inspections and supply optimized routing to sites. Once at a site, maps of the facilities to be inspected can speed the process. Inspectors using handheld devices with wireless capability running ArcPad can access information relating to a site and update records.

State governments also run programs that enhance the living standards of rural populations. GIS helps local and state officials work together to evaluate policies and land management practices. Modeling scenarios using GIS can identify negative impacts before policies or programs are implemented.

Compliance programs for crop inputs provide a good example of state agricultural agencies working closely with county agencies. State agencies oversee application of chemical crop inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. This a formidable task not only owing to complexity and growth of environmental regulation but to the volume of restricted materials applied each year. In California, the Department of Pesticide Regulation oversees the work of the county agricultural commissioners (CACs), who on an annual basis are responsible for issuing between 45,000 and 50,000 operator IDs for pesticide use and evaluating 185,000 to 200,000 fields or sites.

CACs, working with the State, must balance the commercial interest of farmers with health concerns of the community. While regulations for pesticide use vary from state to state, all states require information on where pesticides have been used, what pesticides have been applied, and how much pesticide was applied. Because this information is tied to a discrete land parcel or field, GIS is tremendously useful in collecting, analyzing, and disseminating this data not only for managing the permit process but also for associated water quality monitoring activities.

GIS has long been used for land use management by local governments and, as a natural extension of that function, it has become a tool for developing alternative uses for agricultural land. With the depopulation of some rural areas, new uses for agricultural land must be found. Improved communication fostered by using GIS can help in consensus building and promoting conflict resolution.

Valuing agricultural property for taxation and other purposes presents a more complex appraisal problem than residential or commercial valuation. Properly appraising agricultural land requires considering how all the property's characteristics interact to affect value. In addition to factors common to residential and commercial valuation such as lot size, the size and quality of improvements, and floodplain status, agricultural valuation must consider attributes such as soil type and quality, crop yields, accessibility, and slope. By integrating data from many sources, GIS makes a more thorough valuation possible.

In other areas where the pressure from urbanization is endangering farmland, state and county agencies have started farm preservation programs. Agencies running farm preservation programs use GIS to determine which properties to include in preserves, develop incentive programs, and monitor farms in preserves. These programs often involve tax incentives that require complex valuation calculations. Staff using GIS can make these calculations more rapidly and accurately and can more easily administer these programs. An article in this issue, "Preserving America's Farmlands," describes how GIS is used in farm preservation programs in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

By providing a more holistic and more efficient approach to data management and sharing, GIS is an empowering tool for the federal, state, and local agencies that work with agriculture.

For more information on the use of GIS by agricultural government agencies, contact
Max Crandall,
Agriculture Industry Solutions Manager
Tel.: 909-793-2853, ext. 1-2309

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