An Intelligent Future for Farm Policy

Smart technologies and artificial intelligence can help farmers grow food more profitably and more sustainably. But they can do so much more.

 

The benefit to the individual farmer is clear: decision-support tools provide the peace of mind that comes from knowing the upcoming harvest’s yields are going to be as high as they can be. But can government take advantage of the same opportunity?

 

There’s no reason state and federal level regulators can’t use similar tools to ensure agricultural policy is always informed by the best available data.

 

In an ideal world, every farmer would have remote sensors, fully analyzed high-res imagery taken throughout the season, and precision machines that deliver just the right amount of nutrients, water, herbicides, and insecticides in the parts of the field where they are needed. The process generates a tremendous amount of data for a real-time and historical look at each field’s performance.

 

But just imagine what it would look like if a complete dataset and the resulting crop and field intelligence were available to policymakers. They’d finally have a real-time view of growing conditions and food supply levels. This would be quite the upgrade from the way things work now.

 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) started producing crop reports in 1863. Basing estimates on surveys that were, in the department’s own words, “crude and subjective.”[1] While the agency has vastly improved its statistical capabilities in the past century and a half, the agency still relies on 19th-century methods to gather the data used in some of its critical reports.

 

To take just one example, every five years, the department drops 3 million old-fashioned paper surveys in the mail[2] to create the Census of Agriculture, a useful overview of industry economic conditions and land usage. While farmers can provide their answers online, it still takes an army of staff to process the paperwork at an annual cost of $45 million.[3]

 

There has to be a better way. In fact, there is a better way. USDA already knows that data-driven decision making is the future.[4] The question is, how do we get there?

 

In our next installment, we’ll take a look at what needs to happen to bring agricultural policymaking into the 21st century, and why that’s important.

 


 

[1] https://www.nass.usda.gov/Education_and_Outreach/Reports,_Presentations_and_Conferences/Survey_Reports/125 Years of Agricultural Estimates.pdf

[2] https://www.nass.usda.gov/Newsroom/2018/10-01-2018.php

[3] https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/05_Ag_508.pdf

[4] https://www.ocio.usda.gov/strategic-plan

 


About Al:

Al is passionate about leveraging data to solve problems. At IntelinAir, that means feeding a growing population, driving efficiency and improving grower profitability. Before IntelinAir, Al co-founded IconApps, Integrien Corporation, and CreationPoint Systems—all with successful exits, and held leadership roles at LowerMyBills and Minebea.

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