Ways to Grow: New Directions for Agricultural Technology Policy
This whitepaper, which grows out of interdisciplinary research at the University of Washington Tech Policy Lab, argues for a widening of the aperture with respect to contemporary technology policy in agriculture. Emerging technology could, as advertised, reduce costs and increase food production. But the industrial model of agriculture that technology currently supports—focused on faster, more, and cheaper— has its tradeoffs. Precision agriculture remakes the land to serve technology, introduces new sources of instability into agriculture, and contributes to the destabilization and vulnerability of the American food system. Greater resources should be allocated to “civic” agricultural approaches that transition away from a reliance on hydrocarbons and foreground goals such as soil restoration, regional supply-chain resiliency, and strong local economies.
The current farming crisis presents a challenge, but also an opportunity. Policymakers at the federal and state levels are already exploring ways to address various facets of the problem, such as concentration, subsidies, regulatory thickets, agency capture, historic and present-day discrimination, labor rights, and safety. These are important areas for reform. Yet policymakers cannot afford to ignore the increasing role of technology in agriculture, nor fail to nurture alternate agricultural models focused on locality and resilience.