One of the dangers of an ever-evolving technological landscape is that people can often get lost in the technical weeds without looking to the practical benefit.
Such is the case when it comes to technological advances in agriculture, especially in regards to government regulation and control.
The state of Mississippi is ripe with opportunities to advance agricultural technology further. AutoProbe, for example, is a rising technology in the state that uses robotics to help gather uniform soil samples and analyze them. This enables farmers to work the land more efficiently and helps with greater crop yields.
Furthermore, farmers use drone technology to make strategic agricultural decisions from information gathered from the air. But not only does this technology enable an aerial view of farms, but drones also help find patterns of defoliation, small canopies, and color changes in crops. All of these factors impact the final crop significantly, and drones can more quickly and efficiently determine this information.
Finally, smart-monitoring technology helps farmers conserve resources and energy to most effectively produce food for consumption. Combines that would take three times as long to harvest a crop can now be done quickly and efficiently thanks to the ability to monitor rain and radar simply from one’s phone. This is even easier to accomplish with hands-free satellite guidance.
Despite these immense benefits, some policies have proved to be a boundary to the prosperity that comes from common-sense policies that allow innovative farmers to be the most effective. The problem is that many state and federal regulations on agriculture are overzealous in the mitigation of safety risks -often to the detriment of agricultural efficiency and innovation.
Take the state of California, for example. According to the California Code of Regulations, an operator must accompany all self-propelled equipment when in motion. This means that regardless of whether the machinery in question needs an operator, an operator is still required to legally handle it, depleting the purpose of the machinery being “autonomous.”
Such a policy may be put in place for the sake of safety but does not consider the practical effects as it dissuades farmers from investing in more efficient, automatic machinery. After all, why would a farmer purchase expensive autonomous machinery over manually operated machinery if regulations remove the practical benefits of automation? It simply does not stand to reason, which is perhaps why not many states have adopted the same policy.
However, unreasonable boundaries to the use of technology in agriculture do not stop with autonomous machinery. Although there may often be freedom to produce certain agricultural products using technological innovation, there have been technology restrictions on how farmers can sell those same products. The regulatory boundaries follow farmers even if they try to use certain technologies to sell what they produce.
For instance, many states, including Mississippi, have “cottage food laws” that prohibit farmers and others from using the internet to sell processed agricultural products, such as pickled products, dried fruits and vegetables, jellies, and many other goods.
This effectively stops the use of mobile apps and other technologies that would allow farmers to use the internet to sell such products to potential customers. By limiting such agricultural activities to in-person sales, there is a government-imposed boundary on farmers trying to take advantage of even basic internet technology to sell their products.
The key to moving agricultural technology policy forward in Mississippi is finding solutions to policy problems, expanding technology horizons, and giving farmers the chance to press ahead without being legally restricted to outdated methods.
Innovation has always been the key to American economic success. Giving our agriculture system the edge it needs to succeed has to be of the highest priority when legislators gather to find solutions.
Mississippi farmers should have the freedom to use technological innovation as a way to work their farms as efficiently as possible as they seek to provide a livelihood for their families. Public policy should take proactive steps to provide safeguards against technology regulations so that they have the full liberty to do just that.
Josiah Dalke is a Research Intern with the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. He is a Washington State native seeking a government degree at Patrick Henry College.