Artificial intelligence will offer producers with substitutes for advisers and farm workers, but safeguards are needed to protect data privacy, members of the Senate Agriculture Committee were told Tuesday.

AI-based systems are poised to grow alongside the use of on-farm data, which is already being collected through precision agriculture systems, Sanjeev Krishnan, the chief investment officer of investment firm S2G Ventures told the committee. 

"Farmers are drowning in data and not in solutions," said Krishnan, who touted AI as a "new frontier of deriving value from on-farm data" that could help farmers find "better, faster and more efficient" solutions to on-farm challenges they face.

Advancing these technologies, however, requires access to broadband and AI experts, said Dakota State University President José-Marie Griffiths.

"We have the need for additional experts who are actually going to help develop these AI related applications to agriculture and to other sectors and we are in relatively short supply of those people," Griffiths said. "We need to encourage more people to go into STEM."

Cybersecurity protections should also be developed alongside artificial intelligence, since the presence of artificial intelligence could make systems more vulnerable to cyberattacks, said Griffiths. She added that risks to the confidentiality of intellectual property should also be considered.

"There are crucial steps that academia in partnership with industry and federal agencies can take to ensure the safe, responsible and effective use of AI," she said.

Farmers are often hesitant to share their data with companies or the government due to a lack of trust, privacy concerns and the presence of proprietary information, lawyer Todd Janzen told the committee. Transparency "becomes even more important" when trust is lacking, he said.

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"Farmers should know how their data is going to be used," Janzen said. "They should know when they sign up for AI platforms if its going to be used to train these platforms and what it means for them."

Jahmy Hindman, the senior vice president and chief technology officer for Deere & Company, also urged the committee to consider creating programs incentivizing investments in precision ag technology. He touted the Precision Ag Loan Act, which would create a Farm Service Agency program that would provide loans to farmers for precision agriculture technology.

Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., acknowledged to reporters after the hearing that data privacy is a key concern for farmers. 

"There's a really important role for the government to play in setting up guardrails," she said, noting that five or six bills had been introduced to address the issue.