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Chairwoman Stabenow Statement at Hearing on Agricultural Technology and Artificial Intelligence

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following statement at a hearing titled “Innovation in American Agriculture: Leveraging Technology and Artificial Intelligence”. Live video of the hearing is available here.

Stabenow’s Statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

Welcome to our witnesses. Thank you all for being here today. American agriculture has always been at the forefront of innovation, and artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionize the way we grow, harvest, and distribute our crops. In this rapidly evolving landscape, it is imperative that we strike a balance between harnessing the benefits A.I. offers while addressing the concerns it raises, such as data privacy, workforce implications, and equitable access to technological advancements.  

Our discussion today will help us navigate this intricate path, ensuring that American agriculture remains sustainable, competitive, and resilient in the face of a changing world.

The reality is that artificial intelligence is already being integrated into our daily lives. In fact, my statement up to this point was entirely generated by A.I.!

This just shows us how real this technology and its implications can be. It is opening new pathways to address the climate crisis, increase production, lower input costs, and automate planting and harvesting.  

Tractors that scan for weeds and apply targeted herbicides, harvesting machines that use A.I. to determine ripeness in real time and autonomously pick crops, and systems that integrate satellite and soil data to more efficiently apply fertilizer are not in the realm of science fiction. These technologies are being put to use on farms across the country today.

These are exciting opportunities, and this committee must work to ensure that America does not fall behind. USDA is taking steps to explore the future of this technology.

For example, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture is investing in cutting-edge research to study how we can apply A.I. to some of American agriculture’s greatest challenges. But we must also be cautious about the significant risks.

Placing vast amounts of data in the hands of a few private companies could accelerate the trend of consolidation in the agricultural industry or perpetuate bias that has harmed small farmers and farmers of color for decades.  

High costs are putting A.I. and precision agriculture technology out of reach for everyone except the largest operations. We must work to ensure that its application does not force even more small and medium sized farms out of business by ensuring that there is fair access to its benefits.

I also remain concerned that a small handful of companies that provide this technology will be the same companies that sell the fertilizer and seeds that their technology recommends as a solution. Farmers should be the ones benefiting from their data, not big corporations.

And I cannot allow the opportunity pass to remind everyone that this technology cannot work on farms if we do not continue to extend the reach of broadband and highspeed internet into every rural community.

There is a tremendous opportunity to use this technology to bring new and high paying jobs into rural communities. This opportunity should not be forfeited to big cities, but it should have a chance to thrive in the heartland where it is being put to use in fields and on farms across the country. 

I am glad that President Biden issued an Executive Order as a first step to managing these kinds of risks. And I am grateful that Majority Leader Schumer has initiated a thoughtful bipartisan effort so that we in the Senate can fully evaluate the potential risks and benefits of A.I. in every part of our lives and our economy. The responsibility of this Committee is to understand the implications of regulating this technology on farms and in our food system. And that is the process we are beginning today with this hearing.

We also cannot allow flashy headlines about the potential of A.I. to distract us from the very real need to support agriculture research broadly. Today’s hearing is not just about A.I and precision agriculture – we also need a moonshot in agriculture research. Every dollar invested in agricultural research generates $20 in domestic economic activity.   

Meanwhile, China has quintupled its investment in public agriculture research since 2000, and now it invests twice as much as we do. As farmers work to tackle the climate crisis, navigate constantly changing markets, and feed a growing global population, investments in agriculture research and trustworthy economic data will only become more important.

My goals for the Farm Bill are to keep farmers farming, keep families fed, and keep rural communities strong. Investing in research and leveraging technology and artificial intelligence will be a critical component to achieving all three.

With that, I will turn to Ranking Member Boozman for any opening remarks he would like to make.