Senator Moran Questions Panel on Potential Benefits of Farming Technology

Senator Jerry Moran (KS), Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security –  questioned a panel of witnesses including Todd Janzen about potential benefits of advancements in agricultural technology and the collection and utilization of data in farming. Here is Senator Moran's opening statement: 

As our technological capabilities expand, we see more opportunities for the agricultural community to adopt tools such as field sensors, drones, satellite imagery, advanced machinery and many other similar pieces of technology as they work to increase crop yields and improve sustainable practices,” said Chairman Moran.“Not only can this technology make farming and ranching more efficient and successful, it has the potential to generate revenue for our ag community. For example, during today’s hearing, panelists agreed that the sale of ‘tradeable’ Electronic Field Records could return $1 billion in revenue to rural agricultural communities. There is great potential to these practices, and I appreciate the willingness of Kansans Justin Knopf and Jason Tatge to share their perspectives with our committee today as we work to make certain our farmers and ranchers can benefit from the increasing volume of quality data.

Additional witnesses included Mr. Todd J. Janzen, President, Janzen Agricultural Law, LLC, who grew up in south Central Kansas; Dr. Shannon Ferrell, Associate Professor, Oklahoma State University; and Dr. Dorota Haman, Professor and Chair, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Florida.

The agricultural community’s adoption of field sensors, drones, satellite imagery, advanced machinery and similar technology is increasing at an incredible pace. Our Commerce committee and this subcommittee has been paying a lot of attention to those issues, and the result of that increasing pace is greater crop yields and improved sustainable practices in farming. The most profitable farms are often the most sustainable ones. This rapidly evolving technology will have a vital role in preserving farmers’ most important asset, their land, with the potential to increase farmers’ margins to unprecedented levels.

The collection and analysis of data has enabled farmers to reduce costs through more efficient applications of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides; improve production decisions through enhanced recordkeeping and more accurate yield predictions; and enhance land stewardship and sustainable practices by removing inefficiencies in planting, harvesting, water use and the allocation of other resources. With an increasing volume of quality data, in tandem with improved data analysis, data-collection technology has the potential to drastically increase farm productivity and profitability.

The collection and use of such data raises issues regarding control of the data, transparency of agreements between farmers and data firms and barriers to expanding internet access to rural America.

Additionally, as data collection and sharing practices become more popular across the ag economy, farmers are well-positioned to benefit from the “commoditization” of data collected from their land, especially as equipment manufacturers, service providers, cooperatives and other businesses seek access to that data.

The goal for this hearing is to educate and empower our nation’s farmers to understand the value of the information they are creating, and certainly to allow members of Congress to have a better understanding of the current lay of the land and what the future holds.

It is my pleasure to introduce the panel today, and I thank you all for being here.

Justin Knopf is a farmer from Gypsum, Kansas – right in the middle of our state – he grows wheat, alfalfa, soybeans, grain sorghum, corn and multi-species of cover crops. As part of his sustainability-focused farming operations, he practices what is commonly referred to as “no-till” farming and utilizes a variety of technologies that assist his monitoring efforts to be good stewards of the land while improving his yield.

Jason Tatge is the Co-Founder and CEO of Farmobile, a technology firm based in Overland Park, Kansas – that’s a suburb of Kansas City. His company’s services provide farmers with real-time access to ownership of current and historical data pertaining to their land. By providing a user-friendly, simplified and comprehensive overview of relevant data, Farmobile’s customers are able to make educated decisions in a much more timely fashion.

Dr. Shannon Ferrell is an Associate Professor at Oklahoma State in the Department of Agricultural Economics. He also serves as an agricultural industry representative to the Oklahoma Environmental Quality Board, which oversees operations of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, and the Senator from Oklahoma will have an opportunity to introduce Dr. Ferrell shortly.

Todd Janzen is President of Janzen Agricultural Law, LLC and the Administrator of the Ag Data Transparency project. This project makes available the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator, which aims to provide clarity to consumers as to what businesses do with the data that is shared with them all.

And finally, Dr. Dorota Haman is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Florida. She specializes in irrigation water management and efficiencies, and has been an active leader in providing irrigation technologies in developing countries in the Americas and Africa.

I look forward to hearing the testimony of these expert witnesses.