Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



agricultural secrecy, USDA, Farm Bill, geospatial data, privacy, transparency, accountability, oversight, CAFOs, EPA, Section 1619, FOIA Exemption 3


This briefing paper examines the agricultural secrecy granted by section 1619 of the 2008 Farm Bill, its implications for transparency and oversight, and its impact on other federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In an era of fiscal responsibility, tight budgets, and increasing pressure on the environment, the public has a right to know whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making the best decisions about how to allocate public funds.

Each year, agricultural producers in the United States receive billions of dollars in federal payments: crop subsidies, crop insurance, conservation payments, disaster payments, loans, grants, and other benefits. Section 1619 authorizes USDA to keep secret much of the basic information that these producers provide to the agency in order to participate in these payment programs. This information includes the geographic coordinates of the agricultural operation, types of crops grown and animals raised, acreage, and land use types and features, among other key pieces of information.

Agricultural secrecy contradicts the fundamental principles of open government and transparency in a democracy and causes inefficiencies for how other federal agencies operate. For example, the public cannot examine how USDA distributes billions of dollars of federal funding and whether the agency is following the law. EPA, charged with protecting public health and the environment, is handicapped in its ability to implement the Clean Water Act and in particular to regulate water pollution from the large confined animal feeding operations that generate three times as much manure as the human population in the U.S. annually. This paper recommends that Congress abolish section 1619 to restore transparency and accountability in USDA payment programs.

Publication Citation

Center for Progressive Reform Briefing Paper no. 1213, September 1, 2012.


Agriculture Law | Environmental Law