The API Briefing: Harvesting the USDA’s Rich Bounty of Open Data Sets for APIs

Feb 25, 2015
Data Center

APIs and apps have been created for almost every aspect of human life. There are alarm clock apps, fitness apps, cooking apps, and personal finance apps, just to name a few of the thousands of apps available today. Most areas of society are well-represented in the app world except for one large portion of the American public—rural America. There need to be more apps for rural America.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has hundreds of data sets that deal with the scientific, economic, and governmental issues facing rural America. For example, there is a data set, Creative Class County Codes, that tracks the proportion of “creative” (including science, technology, engineering, and math—STEM) professionals in a geographic area. Retaining young adults who join the creative class is especially important to rural areas. Another example data set is the Farm Program Atlas which is useful in helping farmers sustain their farms while protecting the environment.

There are eight APIs on the USDA’s Developer page. An especially interesting API is for soil data. The API allows the developer to submit several database queries to retrieve geographical information and characteristics of various soils. Another USDA API provides production estimates for American produce and livestock commodities. A developer could combine both of the above APIs to determine the influence of soil types on various produce commodities. I am certain such research has been performed, but one of the advantages of such an app is using geolocation to personalize the research to a specific farm area.

There is a good amount of research on smart cities (MIT and IBM for example). Research that demonstrates how to use APIs, apps, and the Internet of Things help cities become more energy efficient, environmentally sustainable, and innovative. Rural America is just as vital to America’s future, and there are numerous research data sets that can also help revitalize America’s rural areas. These data sets need to be developed into APIs to encourage apps for rural America.

    • **API – Application Programming Interface. How software programs and databases share data and functions with each other. Check out APIs in Government for more information. Each week in “The API Briefing,” I will showcase government APIs and the latest API news and trends. Visit this blog every week to learn how government APIs are transforming government and improving government services for the American people. If you have ideas for a topic or have questions about APIs, please contact me via email. Dr. William A. Brantley is the HRIS Branch Chief in the USDA’s Rural Development Human Resources Office. You can find out more about his non-federal work in this space at All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the USDA and GSA.