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Thune: Farm Bill Must Support Advancements in Agriculture

“I’ll be working hard to ensure that South Dakota farmers and ranchers – and farmers and ranchers around the country – have the resources they need to innovate and that this year’s farm bill advances the next generation of farming.”

March 9, 2023

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed his efforts to support the next generation of agriculture. As a longtime member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Thune has introduced bills to advance agriculture innovation, precision agriculture, and rural connectivity for the 2023 farm bill. Serving on the Agriculture Committee gives Thune an important platform from which he can directly address the needs of South Dakota agriculture producers.

Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):


“Mr. President, before I begin, I just want to say that my thoughts and prayers are with Leader McConnell this morning and that I look forward to his speedy return to the Senate.


“Mr. President, agriculture may well be among the world’s oldest ways of life, but it’s never been stagnant.


“Farmers and ranchers have always looked for new and better ways to increase crop yields, conserve resources, and keep their land and livestock healthy and productive.


“Today’s agricultural producers explore new farming practices, grow more resilient crops, and adopt new technologies to produce more and use less.


“And the resilience of our food supply and America’s ability to feed our country and the world are in no small measure thanks to these farmer-driven advances.


“Mr. President, as I said, farmers and ranchers are always looking for ways to improve their operations. 


“But they can face challenges when they’re looking for reliable data.


“While the U.S. Department of Agriculture collects a lot of data, little has been done to analyze and organize it so that it’s useful for farmers.


“Right now, many producers have to rely on anecdotal information to determine the value of things like conservation and other production practices and decide what to adopt on their own farms and ranches.   


“Better data would make it easier for farmers to decide what practices are the best option for them.


“A recent study of Department of Agriculture data from farms in several states confirmed anecdotal reports about certain conservation practices. 


“It demonstrated that farmers who used these practices were more likely to be able to plant during an exceptionally wet spring.


“That’s the kind of information farmers need to make informed decisions for their operations.


“And we need to see more of this kind of analysis.


“That’s why earlier this year I reintroduced my bipartisan Agriculture Innovation Act with Senator Klobuchar.


“Our bill would make it easier for producers and trusted researchers to use USDA data to assess the impact of various conservation and production practices so that producers can choose the right practices for their farm and ranch operations. 


“And I will work to get the Agriculture Innovation Act included in this year’s farm bill.


“Mr. President, while the macro-level data USDA collects can provide valuable information, farmers are already beginning to look to the next frontier – collecting real-time, micro-level data from their own fields.


“Imagine what a farmer could do with real-time information about soil quality, water uptake, and plant health.


“Imagine quickly knowing whether you need more nitrogen or less water in a section of your field.


“Imagine having real-time data about your land or livestock at your fingertips. 


“This is the promise of precision agriculture – harnessing the power of technology to help producers manage their operations with real-time data.


“GPS can allow farmers to identify field characteristics, map out irrigation, and optimize crop production on their fields.


“Soil monitors can allow farmers to react to conditions as they change and apply fertilizers more precisely.


“And remote monitoring can help farmers keep tabs on everything from resource usage to livestock health and feed consumption.


“Mr. President, precision agriculture represents a significant leap forward in farmers’ long advance toward producing more and using less.


“It presents an opportunity to increase profitability by cutting down on inputs, the prices of which have spiked amid our inflation crisis.


“And it’s a step toward broader use of conservation practices that will keep farmland in productive use for years to come.


“But for Americans to reap all of the benefits of precision agriculture, more work needs to be done.


“And today I’m introducing the bipartisan Promoting Precision Agriculture Act with Senator Warnock to help facilitate widespread adoption of precision agriculture technology.


“My bill would establish a partnership between government and the private sector to develop voluntary interconnectivity standards and prioritize cybersecurity for precision agriculture technologies.


“These standards will help enhance precision agriculture uptake and ensure reliability, usability, and security for producers and their data.


“It’s an important element of ensuring these new technologies deliver the advances they promise and of making sure that farmers and ranchers can trust that they’re worthwhile investments.


“But as farmers look to the precision agriculture future, Mr. President, the one thing that could still hold them back is the continued digital divide.


“Without a reliable internet connection, precision agriculture just doesn’t work.


“And next-generation precision ag technologies will need stronger connectivity.


“Connecting unserved areas to reliable broadband has long been a priority of mine.


“And we’ve made a good deal of progress through federal investments and policies like my MOBILE NOW Act that removed regulatory barriers to broadband expansion.


“But we still have a lot of work to do.


“This year, I reintroduced my Rural Internet Improvement Act to streamline USDA’s broadband authorities and ensure that broadband funding goes to areas where at least 90 percent of households lack broadband access. 


“Mr. President, we also need to ensure the broadband investments we’ve already made are actually going to their intended goal: expanding broadband access to areas that currently lack it.


“In the last three years, the federal government has allocated $79 billion to broadband programs.


“But all the money in the world is useless if it’s not being spent properly, which is why I launched a broadband oversight initiative in December to ensure this funding is going toward delivering broadband to the Americans who need it most.


“Mr. President, it’s been clear for a long time how critical an internet connection is to the future of everything from education and health care to business and everyday life.


“And connectivity has the potential to truly revolutionize how we grow food in America.


“I’m proud that South Dakota has been a leader in precision agriculture.


“South Dakota State University was the first in the country to offer a four-year precision agriculture degree.


“And in 2021, the university opened the Raven Precision Agriculture Center, where the next generation of farmers will work to advance the next generation of farming.


“Since opening its precision ag center, SDSU has also launched a precision ag and cyber program with Dakota State University – a leading cybersecurity institution.


“Mr. President, as I’ve said numerous times, 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 their families.


“Precision agriculture is one of those things.


“It has the potential to deliver the same kind of advance that crop rotation, the Farmers’ Almanac, and crop engineering delivered for farming.


“It can make farming more efficient, more cost-effective, and more environmentally friendly than it already is.


“And it can help our farms produce more food for more people with fewer resources and on less land.


“I’ll be working hard to ensure that South Dakota farmers and ranchers – and farmers and ranchers around the country – have the resources they need to innovate and that this year’s farm bill advances the next generation of farming.


“Mr. President, a farmer is a lot of things – a scientist and a laborer, an innovator and an accountant, an engineer and a conservationist.


“I’m proud to serve the extraordinary men and women who keep our rich agricultural heritage alive and thriving.


“And I’ll continue working to help them as they move it into the future.


“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”