by Mike Johanns, Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, former Nebraska Governor & former U.S. Senator; alliantgroup Chairman of Agriculture & Heidi Heitkamp, Former U.S. Senator, Attorney General, and Tax Commissioner for North Dakota; alliantgroup Director of Agriculture
March 11, 2021
Published in CNN.com
American farmers and ranchers remain skeptical that the Biden administration will be an effective partner.
President Donald Trump’s approach to trade relations with an adversarial China certainly challenged farmers’ confidence but most farmers remained loyal to the former president going into the 2020 election as a result of his hard stances against environmental regulation. Plus, President Barack Obama’s reputation with American farmers as an over-regulator, particularly regarding the 2015 Waters of the United States regulation, hasn’t helped the Biden administration either.
To win over the support of America’s farmers, President Biden will need to embrace technology and its place in the future of farming. Technology will feed a growing world population while setting the stage for agriculture’s role in protecting our planet.
New practices and technologies that reduce costs for seeds, fertilizer and labor will also help America’s smaller producers succeed financially while putting forward innovations that likely will garner the interest of younger farmers and ranchers who will hopefully be more enticed to stay on the family farm.
Take John Deere’s R4038 sprayer as an example. John Deere uses Blue River See and Spray technology to differentiate agronomic plants from weeds or soil. By doing so, the technology can deliver the precise amount of chemical sprays to the right kind of plants with minimal waste. What does this mean for farmers and their consumers? It means efficiency for the farmer, lower prices for the consumer and, importantly, lower environmental impact.
Others, like Bushel, offer farmers innovations like accurate chemical sprays, integrated apps and other technology to make farming more efficient and profitable. Such technologies track crop and livestock growth and manage feed values and fertilizer allocation, along with other daily activities around the farm faster and more accurately than any human calculation ever could.
Strategic financial support should also be a top priority for President Biden in order to encourage further research and development so that innovations like the ones described above have a viable future.
With climate mitigation as a stated goal, the administration should provide incentives for voluntary clean energy practices. However, the administration should also work to allow for these incentives while keeping the much-needed safety net that comes in the Farm Bill. The package of legislation was created in 1985 and provides farmers incentives such as risk protection for those who face losses in yield, crop or farm revenue through financial support if certain requirements are met.
These incentives for clean energy practices could potentially include grants, as well as a targeted and amplified Research and Development Tax Credit for agriculture that would further spur innovation in the field that will yield more profits for our farmers and boost our country’s economy. The credit should provide incentives for those who are improving products or processes that will get food on the table more efficiently, sustainably and cheaply.
Improving America’s trade relations with countries like China should also be a top priority for the Biden administration, which has noted that, in time, it will address President Trump’s trade war that left American farmers financially wounded and in need of subsequent aid. Addressing the tariffs and their continuing harm to American agriculture will certainly help amplify the American farmer’s chance of financial success in the years to come. On average, nearly 25% of American agriculture is exported to foreign markets every year. Although President Biden should remain firm in his fight for fair trade practices, he must be cognizant of the toll that the trade war took on farmers over the last three to four years.
These efforts will all be for naught if the technological infrastructure is not in place to support this era of innovation. Many farms still do not have reliable access to both wireless and broadband systems. The Biden administration needs to prioritize accessibility in rural America in order to allow for the true impact of technology to take root for US agricultural businesses.
Finally, we need a steady stream of technical talent to take the sector into the future. Grants to America’s technical and community colleges that specialize in agribusiness studies and strategic partnerships can help feed the next generation of STEM students into companies that will be supporting American farmers in the decades to come.
This is an opportunity for the new administration to shape a more innovation-centric vision for the future of American farming. It’s a vision that must include the small farmers of America, as well as minorities and women.
This is a chance for President Biden to win the hearts of those in American agriculture and give them the support they need, both financial and otherwise, to think outside the box and innovate.
Mike Johanns was the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 2005-2007 as well as the Governor of Nebraska from 1999-2005 and the state’s U.S. Senator from 2009-2015. As alliantgroup’s Chairman of Agriculture, Johanns brings more than 30 years of experience at virtually every level of government and a strong background in both agriculture and economic development. As the Secretary of Agriculture, he managed 18 different agencies, opened or expanded access to 40 international markets and was responsible for multiple agricultural breakthroughs as a negotiator for the Doha Development Round.
Heidi Heitkamp represented North Dakota from 2013 to 2019 and was the first woman ever elected to represent the state as a U.S. Senator. Heitkamp has demonstrated her passion for economic development by spearheading the strategic development of our country’s renewable energies and the passage of two long-term, comprehensive Farm Bills. She was also on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, as well as the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.