The federal government and the farm bill play key roles in advancing technology adoption on the farm that benefits farmers and the environment, Democratic senator and Agriculture Committee member Raphael Warnock said Wednesday.

Speaking at an event sponsored by the publication Punchbowl News, the Georgia lawmaker said he was hopeful a farm bill could be passed this year and help improve tight margins for those in agriculture by encouraging environmental actions and offering a farm safety net.

“I think sometimes there is this false choice that's put before us between being ecologically sustainable and economically sustainable. And I think already we're seeing the ways in which those things are connected,” he said.

He said passing the farm bill and encouraging the adoption of ag technology can help Congress move beyond divides and debates, but it requires legislators to find ways to work together. “We can support SNAP programs, and we can support commodities, and we can have a kind of long-term view that ensures that the Georgia ag community is sustainable, resilient and thrives well into the future.”

Warnock said he’s impressed with the ways in which farmers are using crop rotation, reduced tillage and a whole range of sustainable practices to farm in a way that is both economically and ecologically sustainable.

“What I want to do is get the policy right to help advance that work,” he said of his commitment to see the farm bill reauthorized.

Warnock said he supports conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program, but he backs Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow’s position that the $20 billion in IRA funding for conservation programs should remain earmarked for climate-related practices. 

He noted conservation programs are oversubscribed, which is why Congress put the money in the IRA.

“It’s not just the right thing to do in terms of the ecology, I think it’s the smart thing to do economically. It’s where the future is,” he said. “I don’t think the farmers are interested in ideology; they want their crops to grow. They want to feed everybody, and they want to be able to pass the farm on to the next generation. And I want to do everything I can help them to do that.”

Warnock added farmers are often at the “mercy of the market, climate change and natural disasters” that are now more extreme and occur more often. Georgia recently saw a 90% loss of the peach crop with a mild winter and a late freeze. He’s looking to enhance crop insurance for specialty crop growers as well as reforming the Tree Assistance Program to allow farmers to replant alternative breeds of trees and bushes that may be more resilient to weather extremes.

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“The least we can do is to make sure that those who feed our families have their families protected,” he said, which is why he’s focused on expanding crop insurance to more specialty crops and supporting those who may find themselves in a difficult situation. 

Earlier this year, Warnock introduced legislation with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., that would create a federal working group to establish interconnectivity standards for precision agriculture tools. Comparing how Apple and Android phones know how to connect to each other, Warnock mentioned that precision ag tools don’t always offer the same connectivity, and his bill works to address that problem.

Kyle Bridgeforth, owner and operating partner of Alabama-based Bridgeforth Farms, was also featured at the event. He noted that since he started his career on the farm 12 years ago, agriculture is in the midst of a “digital revolution” in recording and capturing on-farm data. Initially there was a focus on yield and productivity, but now the focus has shifted to capturing how to grow and harvest the crop, carbon sequestration and all the metrics and layers of data for the individual farm.

Farmers, both large and small, can make a large impact on the environment with the adoption of sustainable techniques.

Bridgeforth said in order to adopt new technologies, farmers of all sizes need access to capital. “There needs to be a suite of financing options and access to capital for all growers, whether it’s in the form of low interest loans from the government or in the form of grant funding or a specific funding,” he said.

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