USDA seeds of success
How the USDA’s online portal equips farmers to grow their businesses.
The vital programs that it offers, including crop insurance services, conservation programs, technical assistance, and commodity, lending and disaster relief programs, help make farming sustainable by mitigating many risks. Supporting this community are roughly 100,000 employees spanning more than 4,500 locations.
While these services were incredibly important to farmers and other producers, program information was often hard to access, spread over multiple websites or not even accessible online. This required farmers to either fax written forms or travel significant distances to USDA field offices to manage their farms and ranches. The Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) mission area, USDA’s focal point for agricultural producers, was established to provide an integrated, comprehensive and modern approach to serving this community. It recognized the need to improve the process and the customer experience—from reducing duplication to increasing consistency. FPAC sought to unify processes for application submissions and provide streamlined program support and customer management.
As such, the secretary sought a one-stop shop where farmers, ranchers and producers could fill out forms, check loan balance and status, apply for disaster assistance and find the most convenient USDA office locations. USDA said it was seeking a solution “built around the needs of customers, with farmer-focused content, interactive tools, and a business data dashboard that allows producers more time to focus on their farm and less time filling out antiquated and time-intensive paper forms.”
Farmers.gov is built around the needs of customers, with farmer-focused content, interactive tools, and a business data dashboard that allows producers more time to focus on their farm and less time filling out antiquated paper forms.
Working closely with the USDA’s team, we set out to make producers’ experiences more integrated and human-focused. We traveled to USDA field-offices and farms across the country to analyze the customer experience from every angle.
The team then applied its insights to help consolidate seven existing digital platforms and 150 federal Web resources into farmers.gov, and integrated, mobile-friendly, interactive portal.
Among its many goals, the farmers.gov program was designed for speed, agility and responsiveness. We set out to design a dynamic transactional portal with core capabilities—targeted, timely, meaningful and inclusive with immediate value to customers and employees.
This included a series of digital features that have provided great value for producers and employees alike, including:
Farmers.gov was developed on the Salesforce cloud-based platform. This allowed the team to leverage a number of integrated customer engagement and user authentication tools to meet the unique needs of every farmer.
As an early example, before the launch of farmers.gov, the USDA’s loan process was time-consuming and cumbersome. Previously, when farmers or ranchers received federal loans from USDA, they were unable to view their loan balances or payment histories online. This meant customers had to go through a largely manual update process by phone, mail and email, causing information delays and straining the bandwidth of field office employees.
It also facilitated an agile, iterative development process where new features and capabilities could be delivered as they were developed to maximize value.
Working with GSA’s Customer Experience Center of Excellence, we identified the features and capabilities most important to farmers and loan officers alike.
We then developed a series of concepts, wireframes and prototypes that we iteratively refined with FPAC executives to best meet these needs. The initial applications were then implemented within a matter of weeks for customers to view their loan data. It provided quick, easy and real-time access to loan payment history and balance information and tax documentation, significantly improving the FPAC customer and employee experience.
To further accelerate development of farmers.gov while maintaining consistent quality, Accenture also helped USDA stand up the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to manage a continuous backlog of features and implemented a DevSecOps pipeline to quickly prototype and test new features.
The development of farmers.gov has been a journey and a deep learning experience—for designers, developers, employees and users.
The use of HCD design in particular was critical to explore, imagine, design, develop and promote compelling digital experiences. Accenture worked closely with USDA to design services, systems and experiences around the needs, challenges and business objectives of customers, including employees, producers and stakeholders.
This human-centered approach accelerated and broadens adoption of the new processes and user interface, speeds time to value, and has led to sustainable, customer-centered transformation.
To better serve America's farmers, ranchers, and foresters, FPAC is building a dynamic, online customer-driven website—farmers.gov—that delivers the information, tools, and first-hand advice built around the needs of the people who grow our food, fiber, flora, and fuel.
Farmers.gov has successfully brought widespread value to USDA business functions and customers.
More than $15.5 billion in distributed funding Designed for farmer needs first, the site has had more than 6.5 million customer page views. Additionally, as of Q4 FY20, farmers.gov has been responsible for: