Thank you for the opportunity to present my testimony and share my view from
Five years ago, as an adjunct to our
I am here today to give you my view of this developing movement that I call the AgTech Revolution, including where it is, where it is going, and how you can help.
American agriculture has undergone several eras of technological innovation. Agriculture was transformed by an industrial revolution through the transition to new manufacturing processes, a green revolution that increased agricultural production worldwide in the latter part of the last century, a genetic revolution that increased crop and livestock production, an information revolution that realized the value of data, and now an
Numerous factors have enabled the AgTech Revolution, and I summarize a few of them here:
1. Food Security. Climate change, a growing global population, rising food prices and environmental pressures are factors that have impacted people’s physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food. Such pressures prompted a revolution in the agricultural industry that embraces technological innovation to optimize food safety and production.
2. The Rise of Consumerism. The “
3. The Declining Labor Market. Farm labor shortages and rising wages have resulted in increased labor costs, which then contribute to increased investments in technologies that would replace the manual labor part of the farming process. The average farm worker in
4. The Changing Agricultural Markets. A comparison of agricultural production patterns in the
5. Increased Rural Internet Connectivity. The adoption and application of
6. The Introduction of Venture Capital.
7. The Rise of Big Data. Farm data includes site-specific data (e.g., information about seeding rates, soil nutrients, fertilizer, pesticides, water, yield data), meta data (e.g., information about number of acres, inputs applied, crops) and big data (i.e., the aggregation of farm data from numerous operations). Technology now enables farmers to utilize farm data to help inform their work decisions and optimize production.
A list all of the new technologies informing modern agriculture would fill a book, and I do not attempt to list them all here. However, it is worth pointing out a few of the new technologies that I have seen being developed or implemented in the field.
1. Precision Agriculture. Precision Ag refers to the suite of hardware and software solutions that allow farmers to optimize efficiencies, reduce inputs, increase production and capture useful data. Precision Ag includes the sensors that gather information, the devices that transmit information, and the software programs that convert the data to actionable information. Sensor tech and the
Many companies have automated the process to a degree previously not thought possible. Self-driving tractors, robotic weeders and thinners, and artificial intelligence (AI) and imaging enabled fruit sorters are in beta or in use. The rise in labor costs have made automation a necessity for farmers, and technology has stepped up to fill the need.
2. GMO and Gene Editing. Almost none of our food today is made independent of some form of genetic engineering. A carrot today is a much different plant than a carrot of 100 years ago. The same is true of grains, fruits, and vegetables. The science of genetic engineering has now advanced beyond its original applications, breeding, and GMOs. Recently, genome editing (GEEN) has entered the market place. GEEN is a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted or replaced in the genome using engineered nucleases, or “molecular scissors.” GEEN technologies are being developed for both plants and animals that change the food we eat.
3. Controlled Environment Agriculture. Controlled environment Ag (“CEA”) is also referred to as urban Ag, vertical farming, and indoor Ag. The application of hydroponics, aeroponics, solar tech, LED lighting and advanced building techniques to agriculture has spurred an entire industry designed to grow anything, anywhere at any time. Previously CEA was challenged by high energy costs but advances in technology are making CEA an environmentally friendly solution to many of the world’s problems in food production.
6. Food supply chain. Having been in the produce business, I have seen in-person the large amount of waste, damage and loss to food from the time it is harvested until it gets to the consumer. Retailers today still rely on methods that existed 50 years ago, but new and developing technologies will monitor produce from field to table so that the ripest product is sold first. Ecommerce technologies provide new efficiencies in the shipment and marketing of produce. This is an area where information has real value in preventing losses.
Today, I would like to propose a few areas where I believe the federal government can help agriculture solve the challenges facing it and assist the adoption of new technologies that are designed to help solve some of the problems described above.
1. Rural Broadband Access. Broadband access is the key to adoption of
One way to implement a rural broadband infrastructure is through FirstNet. FirstNet is the largest amount of federal funding available for broadband infrastructure. Its purpose is to create a national system of emergency communications between all first responders. We propose that
Alternatively, or contemporaneously, the federal government may implement a program that assists and encourages state and local governments to invest in rural broadband infrastructure.
If we increase access to rural broadband in our nation’s rural areas, the same
2. Specialty Crops In the Farm Bill. Specialty crops generally consist of plants used by people for food, medicinal purposes, and aesthetic gratification. They are defined by the
Federal funds can also provide scientific advances that enable our country to use the most efficient and environmentally sound agriculture technology in the world. Funding this research is imperative due to the industry’s increasing reliance on science and technology to maintain profitable production. Likewise, labor dependency is an ongoing concern in the absence of labor saving technology. Federal support for specialty crops still differs in significant ways from commodity crops. Farm Bills have historically focused on farm commodity program support for the staple, non-perishable, and generally storable commodities such as corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, and sugar until specialty crops and organic agriculture were included in a separate title in the 2008 Farm Bill.
Federal investment in agriculture technology is a promising use of farm bill funds to stabilize prices, reduce manual labor, and create permanent jobs with higher income for domestic workers. Thus, adequate funding for the research and development of agriculture technology protects
3. Privacy and Data Security in
Existing legislation and regulations regarding privacy and data security are applicable to personal information. In light of the importance of maintaining the security and confidentiality of farm data,
As a first step towards dealing with these concerns, a coalition of certain farm organizations, including the
The above standards are not law, however, and farmers must prioritize the availability and usability of big data over their own privacy and security. Farmers must also negotiate with data management companies regarding the use of their farm data. There is precedent for federal regulation of data privacy, although not specifically directed at farming.
The FTC Act (section 5) provides the
We suggest that, given the unique nature of agriculture,
4. AgTech Adoption Tax Credits. Despite the huge advances to be made in agriculture through technology, there are still challenges in its adoption. One of the first problems the Royse AgTech Innovation Network encountered was the disconnect between the technology entrepreneurs and the farmers who would use their tech. There was and is, to be sure, a difference between what technologists think farmers want and what they actually can use, but that gap has been closing as we reach out and involve the grower community in our efforts. The much bigger hurdle is the fact that investing in technology is risky for any business, but especially so for farmers. A grower in
The Code currently allows for a research and development credit (“R&D Credit”), which was recently extended by the PATH Act to benefit startups. The R&D Credit is a general business tax credit under Code section 41 for companies that incur research and development (R&D) costs in
The investment tax credit (ITC), by contrast, allows a taxpayer to deduct part of the cost of installing certain types of energy systems and has been effective in promoting the adoption of solar technology. The ITC, however, is aimed at only a handful of qualifying uses, some of which could be called
The Royse AgTech Innovation Network is in the process of preparing a white paper on this topic, which will detail how such a credit would work.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today and share my thoughts on the AgTech Revolution, current challenges, and possible solutions. I look forward to taking questions and continuing our dialogue
n1 Digital data is data that represents forms of data, including elements of the physical world, by using specific machine language systems that can be interpreted by various technologies (e.g., conversion of a physical scene into a digital image). Digital data collected from farming operations becomes farm data. Farm data includes site-specific data (e.g., information about seeding rates, soil nutrients, fertilizer, pesticides, water, yield data), meta data (e.g., information about number of acres, inputs applied, crops) and big data (i.e., the aggregation of farm data from numerous operations). Farmers can utilize farm data to help inform their work decisions and optimize production.
Read this original document at: https://agriculture.house.gov/UploadedFiles/Royse_Testimony.pdf