WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing this week, U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) discussed how three of her bills address common barriers to the adoption of precision agriculture tools. These barriers include financing, connectivity, and internet access.
Senator Fischer also noted that the joint FCC and USDA Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force recommended including both her PAL Act and her LAST ACRE Act in the Farm Bill.
Following is a transcript of Senator Fischer’s questioning:
Senator Fischer: I'm glad to see this hearing today on how we can leverage technology to help our producers. Farmers and ranchers have been using precision agriculture technology to improve yields, reduce inputs, and optimize water usage. But there are more ways that we can boost access to these tools right now.
I've written several bills that focus on expanding access to advanced technologies and ensuring farmers and ranchers can fully utilize the benefits of precision ag technology. My Precision Ag Loan (PAL) program would provide dedicated financing for precision ag technologies. My PRECISE Act would leverage existing conservation programs to increase access to precision ag technologies. And my LAST ACRE Act would expand network connectivity across farm and ranch land so these technologies can work reliably in the field.
These bills have received broad stakeholder support. I appreciate the love this panel has shown these bills today. And I thank many of my colleagues here on this committee who have joined me as cosponsors on those bills.
Just last week, the joint FCC-USDA Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force voted to include both the PAL Act and the LAST ACRE Act as part of their final recommendations. We know that precision ag technologies give producers the ability to monitor and decrease their use of inputs like fertilizer and water while still producing safe, high-quality crops. For example, precision agriculture's ability to optimize water usage is enormously important, particularly for our western states. Nebraska, for example, has 8.6 million acres of irrigated cropland, the most in the whole United States.
Dr. Griffiths, in your written testimony, you describe some of the benefits of precision agriculture. Would you please expand on the economic and environmental benefits that can be gained through the use of precision ag technologies?
Dr. José-Marie Griffiths: Yes, thank you. Basically, the technologies allow much more specific information to be provided to the farmer or the rancher. As a result, they can use their resources sparingly, only when and where needed. So that's basically why costs are reduced. AI can allow us to identify and develop plants that can be harvested more frequently so that you could actually potentially have two crops per year rather than one. I know, there's a lot of research on the bio side of agriculture that's looking at how to develop these new crops and products or new things that you can grow. Same thing in animals, where we're doing that kind of research as well. But basically, that's what AI allows us to do, be more precise and specific.
Senator Fischer: Thank you. Despite the benefits that we've discussed here today, producers continue to face challenges adopting new precision ag technologies. That's mostly due to the high costs and the lack of connectivity in rural areas. So Mr. Hindman, I appreciate your testimony supporting the inclusion of my precision ag package in the Farm Bill. As a technology developer, can you explain some of the financial challenges facing producers in adopting these advanced technologies? And then secondly, even if producers can acquire that technology, what barriers prevent them from being able to fully leverage the precision ag technologies on their own farm?
Dr. Jahmy Hindman: The technologies that we're talking about, graphical processing units, cameras, etc., are expensive technologies to start with. I think the first barrier is the initial cost of the technology, and that's a barrier to entry for some growers at some sizes into the market. Which is why it's important for these new-to-world types of technologies for us to not just work on the technology development, but the business model that accompanies it, right? We can shift the business model to make it more amenable to smaller farmers and pay-for-use type of mechanisms, those sorts of things. So the business model I would expect to shift over time as well. Your second question, Senator, is a connectivity question, pure and simple. There are fundamental technologies, and an increasing number of them, that are in the marketplace today and will be in the marketplace in the future that are connectivity-dependent. Connectivity ubiquitously throughout whatever the field is that the farmer happens to be using.
Senator Fischer: And not just building-to-building. To be able to connect there, we've got to be able to look again at that last acre if we're truly going to make a difference.
Dr. Jahmy Hindman: Acre-based not household-based, yes.
Senator Fischer: Exactly, thank you very much.