Guest column: Congress must support new farm technologies

Published 8:45 pm Friday, December 2, 2022

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Guest column by Henry Tews

Changes in the agriculture industry over the past decade have created massive opportunities for American farmers, and Minnesota is at the forefront of that innovation. Today, Minnesota farmers employ a variety of technologies such as unmanned vehicles, robots, satellite imagery, sensors, networks and other advanced tools to increase crop yields. However, some legislators in Congress want to impose short-sighted legislation that would hinder innovation and destroy the lifeblood of Minnesota’s economy.

Henry Tews

During his first viral YouTube video, Zach Johnson (aka “MN Millennial Farmer”) expressed his concerns about the growing disconnect between farmers and consumers. His videos now expose over half a million people all over the world to both the rich tradition of Minnesota agriculture along with the unfortunate realities of modern farming. Like most successful farmers in America, Zach is innovating amidst challenging economic conditions and his novel approach to farming is leading the way for the future of inventive agriculture practices.

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The bills in question, including the American Online Choice and Innovation Act, would undermine the ability of farmers like Zach to innovate and adapt to meet the challenges of modern farming. Minnesota’s elected officials in Congress should fight for more economic opportunities of Minnesotans, not push bills that would set us back.

With massive flooding in some regions and record-high fertilizer prices, Minnesota farmers cannot afford to lose efficiency and deteriorate crop yields, especially when they have long carried the weight of pursuing innovation and new technologies that have increased harvests dramatically over the years. In the 1970s, generating 50 bushels of wheat an acre was considered a success, but technology and farming have come together to make food production safe, more efficient, more environmentally friendly, and more networked. As private and public research and development create new breeds of corn that mature in 80 to 90 days, rather than 120 or 130 days — now is not the time to stifle innovation with misguided regulation.

As Minnesota continues to attract entrepreneurs and innovators, including five of the top 30 food companies in the United States, farmers across the country will face historic challenges. By 2050, it is estimated that the global population will grow from 7.2 billion to 10 billion people. As a result, Minnesota has continued to invest in a number of cutting-edge agricultural technologies, including Bloom NanoBubbles, which infuses irrigation water with nano-bubbles of oxygen for additional nutrients, unmanned vehicles that create 3D models of fields, Rowbot, which automatically turns over the soil and protects plants, sensors that tell farmers exactly where to plant, and other emergent technologies.

We have seen how technology can increase profitability, reduce the economic impact of farming, and produce the food we need for the future. New agriculture technologies will allow Minnesota farmers to meet even more challenges head-on. As one Minnesota farmer who created a nationally-recognized water conservation project said, “Farming has changed. We’re not perfect, but we’ve always tried to do the best we can — with technology and precision ag — to meet the standards.”

Studies have found that the adoption of new technologies has been dramatically slowed by political uncertainty, depriving farmers of new tools. Meanwhile, innovation has made American farmers the most efficient in the world. Aided by advancements in technology, Minnesotan farmers have exponentially increased the resiliency of the U.S. food supply while boosting productivity; yet, members of Congress have continued to push misguided legislation that would handcuff farmers and innovators just as the need for food increases. These efforts would not only harm American companies but would also hold back American farmers as they use new technologies to transform agriculture.

I urge Minnesota’s leaders in Congress to resist these short-sighted efforts to harm American tech companies at a time when competition across the globe is the highest it has ever been. Congress must pursue policies that promote new farm technology and encourage the adoption of new farm tech. Failing to do so will harm both farmers and the Americans who rely on them.

Henry Tews is a London Township resident.