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Agriculture Keeps Moving into the Future

By Sen. John Thune

March 10, 2023

Agriculture may well be among the world’s oldest ways of life, but it’s never been stagnant. Farmers and ranchers have always sought new and better ways to grow more and use less, and innovative practices, more resilient crops, and new technologies have helped make it possible. Today, data, advanced technology, and connectivity are helping our agricultural producers feed America and the world.

Before adopting a new conservation or production practice, farmers and ranchers want to be sure it’s effective. Access to reliable data would help agricultural producers determine whether a certain practice is right for them. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) collects a lot of data, little has been done to analyze and organize it so it’s useful to producers. To address this issue, I introduced the Agriculture Innovation Act to improve USDA’s secure and confidential data collection procedures. My bill would make it easier for farmers, ranchers, and trusted researchers to use this data to assess the impact of various conservation and production practices so producers can make an informed decision about the right option for their farm or ranch.

While the macro-level data that USDA collects can provide valuable insight, many farmers and ranchers are already looking to the next frontier: collecting real-time, micro-level data from their own fields. Precision agriculture technology puts real-time information about land and livestock at a farmer’s fingertips – whether it’s soil, plant, or livestock health, input needs, or field maps. It represents a quantum leap for farmers and ranchers, enabling greater efficiency, increased profitability, and broader use of conservation practices that will keep farm land productive for generations to come.

There’s more work that needs to be done for Americans to be able to reap the full benefit of precision agriculture. I recently introduced the Promoting Precision Agriculture Act to help facilitate widespread adoption of this technology. My bill establishes a partnership between government and the private sector to develop voluntary, consensus-based, interconnectivity standards and to prioritize the cybersecurity needs for these technologies. These standards will help enhance uptake of precision agriculture technologies and ensure reliability, usability, and security for producers and their data.

I’m also continuing to work to connect unserved areas to reliable broadband because without a reliable internet connection, precision agriculture just doesn’t work. We’ve made a good deal of progress, but we still have a lot to do. My priority is ensuring federal broadband funding goes toward expanding access to areas that currently lack it. I’ve introduced legislation to streamline USDA’s broadband authorities and direct funding to areas that are truly unserved. And, last year, I launched a nationwide broadband oversight initiative to ensure $79 billion in recent federal broadband funding actually delivers broadband to Americans who need it the most.

Agriculture is the lifeblood of South Dakota and anything we can do to make agriculture more efficient and more productive is not only good for our nation’s food supply, it’s good for South Dakota farmers and ranchers, and their families. Better data, precision agriculture, and reliable connectivity are among the advancements that will define the next era in agriculture. I’ll continue to work hard to ensure South Dakota farmers and ranchers have the resources they need to keep agriculture moving forward.