By U.S. Senator Deb Fischer
As Nebraska gears up for another successful harvest, I think it’s worth looking back on how the ag industry has evolved in the last few decades.
The equipment our producers rely on is a far cry from what our grandparents used. Small tractors with two wheels and two cylinders formed the backbone of their operations; today, precision ag technologies such as auto-steer and variable rate fertilizer enable farmers to maximize yields while using exactly the right amount of inputs.
These innovations have brought us huge increases in production, for both irrigated and non-irrigated crops. Since the mid-1990s, when the first precision ag technologies started to enter the market, national corn yields have steadily risen from barely 100 bushels per acre to more than 170. The same is true of soybean yields, which have surged from 35 bushels per acre in 1995 to more than 50 bushels today. Nebraska has seen an even bigger rise in yields over the past three decades.
The latest precision ag equipment has the potential to revolutionize the way America’s producers put food on our tables, but it is expensive. Brand-new equipment might make sense over time, but if it is only going to save you a few dollars an acre next season, a big purchase can be hard to justify.
I recently introduced the bipartisan Precision Agriculture Loan Act in the U.S. Senate to help meet this need. My bill would establish the first-ever federal loan program dedicated entirely to precision ag. This program could save producers thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan.
My bill would direct the USDA to offer loans for any equipment that directly helps to reduce or efficiently manage inputs. That can mean auto-steer or remote sensors, but it can also mean yield monitors, mapping equipment, and even advanced analytics systems.
This effort builds on conversations I had at Northeast Community College in 2018, when I brought FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr to northeast Nebraska. We learned about NECC’s cutting-edge precision agriculture curriculum and saw firsthand how they are preparing their students for successful futures in ag.
Earlier this year, NECC was one of the first groups to endorse my bill. NECC President Dr. Leah Barrett told me that “this loan program will be a great way to help farmers access these new technologies to lower input costs and protect our agricultural land.” She said it is crucial for “the next generation of producers” in Norfolk to have access to these technologies.
The Nebraska Farm Bureau also got behind my bill early on. President Mark McHargue said that my legislation would help bring about “a more sustainable future for our nation’s food producers, both environmentally and economically.”
This bill complements another bill I introduced earlier this year, which would promote research into making Internet of Things sensors work better in rural environments, with the goal of making precision ag technology more reliable. That bill has been met with similar enthusiasm across Nebraska.
This is because precision ag truly has no drawbacks: It makes producers’ lives easier, helps our rural communities thrive, and benefits the environment all at the same time.
Some producers have hesitated to adopt the more expensive types of precision ag equipment, and I certainly understand why. Small and medium-sized operations aren’t always able to take the same risks as larger ones.
The Precision Agriculture Loan Act would give all producers the support they need to do what’s best for their operations. I look forward to helping it become law.
Deb Fischer is Nebraska’s senior U.S. senator and a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
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