USDA Makes New Move in Broad Effort to Bring Innovative Tech to America’s Farmers

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The agriculture-focused agency wants public input on potentially disruptive ideas that could be ready to be implemented.

With sights set on significantly expanding farm production while reducing the field’s environmental footprint over the next decades, the Agriculture Department is looking to learn more about the most innovative, “ready-to-go” technologies and approaches that can be quickly unleashed across the U.S. agriculture landscape. 

The farm-focused agency invited public- and private-sector players to weigh in via a request for information posted last week—and confirmed that responses will inform a “comprehensive U.S. agriculture innovation technology strategy” that USDA intends to develop for its customer-facing programs.

“Across America, we have seen significant advances in agricultural production efficiency and conservation performance during the past two decades,” USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey said in a statement. “We want to keep the momentum.”

Specifically, officials plan to pinpoint publicly accessible tech and practices that are fully developed, field tested, and have completed independent research trials. The agency lists robotics, applications, tools and in-field management activities as examples in their pursuit.

The work is part of the department’s broader Agriculture Innovation Agenda, an agency-wide effort to align USDA’s assets to more deliberately help farmers access and adopt innovative agricultural approaches and products. In catalyzing new innovation, USDA’s ultimate long-term goal through the program is to increase “U.S. agricultural production by 40 percent while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050.”

The agency previously accepted responses on possibly disruptive technologies and approaches that could advance the agenda’s aims—but face substantial room for development ahead of being deployed—through a separate RFI released earlier this year. 

In the latest document, USDA defines innovation as “any idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new or generally has low adoption, and when judged as a whole” has characteristics including: a relative advantage; compatibility with pre-existing systems; potential for reinvention; might be difficult to learn—and more. 

On top of asking farmers and people from non-profits, industry, the forest sector, trade associations, and others to detail potential innovations worth considering, agency insiders also ask them to detail how ready-to-adopt the resources might be and how the agency can promote deployment. Among a range of other questions, USDA requests responders provide feedback on how the innovation might best target particular areas of focus, including carbon sequestration and greenhouse gases, agricultural productivity, food loss and waste, water quality and renewable energy.

The deadline for replies is set for November 9. 

Brandi Vincent is a staff correspondent for Nextgov.

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