Farmers may soon be able to go to a single Web site to find out everything they ever wanted know about the market outlook for cotton or corn or potatoes or just about any other crop.

USDA is preparing a new Commodity Market Information System to bring together many sources of commodity information from its various agencies in one place. The Commodity Market Information System will be up-to-date and searchable, providing user-friendly access to the more than 3,000 commodity-related reports USDA produces every year.

It's just one of a series of “e-government” initiatives that Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman says will be a special focus for USDA in 2004.

“E-government is an important part of President Bush's management agenda to improve the operations of government,” Veneman said during remarks via satellite to the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting in Honolulu.

“The computer has already taken its place next to the plowshare and tractor as indispensable to farmers. USDA's e-government initiatives will standardize processes and provide tools to unleash the fuller potential of information technology. Our goal is to operate more efficiently in order to be more responsive to the needs of American agriculture and consumers.”

Veneman said that beginning immediately, visitors to the USDA Web site, http://www.usda.gov, will begin to see a new design, which is the first phase in efforts to make the Web site more powerful and improve access to USDA information and science.

“The new look will be followed by improved functionality,” Veneman said. “We will continue adding features for users, culminating in August with the launch of ‘MyUSDA.gov’ to provide a customized version of the USDA homepage for individual users based on their unique needs.”

Other features that users will see soon include a “customer statement.” Customer statements will put a whole range of USDA services and programs into a single report at the fingertips of agricultural producers. For instance, farmers would be able to view their contracts in various conservation programs, payments under commodity programs and information on loans and crop insurance.

Veneman said that farmers and ranchers will be able to cross-reference that data with interactive maps of their operations using geographic information systems, or GIS, technology with overlays for roads, soil types, water and other geographic features.

“Producers will have quick and easy access in a single gateway to the volumes and volumes of maps and geospatial data generated by USDA,” Veneman said. “Instead of traveling to a county office, farmers and ranchers will be able to log on from a computer to apply for loan deficiency payments over the Internet.

The goal is to provide integrated service around customer needs. One example is the new Commodity Market Information System designed to bring together many sources of commodity information from our various agencies in one place.

To support these new programs, USDA is making several changes to upgrade systems behind the scenes, including:

  • High-speed networks nationwide to increase data capacity to meet the Department's increasing needs;
  • A web authentication, or privacy, system to allow customers to access information and submit forms securely;
  • Improved e-mail service for employees;
  • A content management system to improve the ability to update Web sites and other information;
  • And, this year, USDA will put into place a cutting-edge tracking system to better manage civil rights cases and data.