Weekly Column

My colleagues and I on the Senate Agriculture Committee have already begun working on the 2023 Farm Bill, a package of critical agriculture legislation passed only once every five years. Those of us on the Agriculture Committee often agree on many aspects of the Farm Bill, and one of the most popular solutions we hope to implement this year is an increase in the accessibility of precision agriculture technologies.

The term “precision agriculture” refers to a wide range of technologies that help producers monitor and target inputs including fertilizer and feed. These tools can also reduce water usage and boost productivity. Precision agriculture helps ag producers optimize their operations and drive down costs.

According to an industry analysis, recent use of precision agriculture — including variable rate technologies, auto-steer, and sensor-driven pivots — has reduced herbicide use by 30 million pounds, fossil fuel emissions by 100 million gallons, and water usage by 500,000 million gallons. That’s good for producers and communities. Productivity levels also shoot up as a result of precision agriculture tools.

Many Nebraskans, a quarter of whom work in jobs related to agriculture, are excited about these technologies. Precision agriculture solutions are the result of clever and useful innovation. But the problem is that they can be expensive.

Large-scale farming operations can afford cutting-edge technology to increase their efficiency — but it can be more difficult for small and mid-size producers to make the necessary investments in these expensive technologies. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) study, large corn and soybean farms have doubled their adoption rates of precision agriculture. That’s happening at a much slower rate for small- to medium-sized farms.

That’s why I reintroduced my Precision Agriculture Loan (PAL) Act to increase precision agriculture access for smaller farmers and ranchers. This bill would provide small- to medium-sized producers with the opportunity to apply for USDA loans that would fund their precision agriculture purchases.

A second bill I led last week was the Producing Responsible Energy and Conservation Incentives and Solutions for the Environment (PRECISE) Act. PRECISE would expand existing USDA programs, including the Conservation Loan Guaranteed Program, to include precision agriculture technologies. The bill would also increase cost share and practice payments for precision agriculture under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program.

Under my new bill, producers would be eligible for multiple loans up to an aggregate limit of $500,000 and term lengths of 3-12 years. They’d receive lower interest rates than traditional financing, decreasing the risk of investing in precision agriculture.

My precision agriculture bills won’t just benefit producers — Nebraskans feed and fuel the rest of the world, so their prosperity means large-scale economic and agricultural growth. Equipment manufacturing also creates jobs and helps America lead the world in innovative and sustainable agricultural production.

Precision agriculture creates win-win opportunities for our farmers and ranchers by bolstering environmental stewardship while using less inputs, less water, and less time, ultimately costing less money.

I look forward to passing these two crucial pieces of legislation, as well as accomplishing even more for Nebraska producers in the 2023 Farm Bill.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

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