Like thousands of Kentuckians, I’ve spent much of my life out on the farm. And if there’s one constant in agriculture, it’s how farmers adapt and change every day using the newest technology. In my father’s lifetime, he went from following a mule to tractors with GPS auto steer.
When I started raising pigs more than four decades ago, it took a strong back and a lot of sweat. And too often, we got a frustratingly small output at the end of a season.
Today, my daughter in Breckinridge County can operate her state-of-the-art chicken house from an app on her phone. She gets a notification if the temperature is one degree too low and can adjust heaters and fans to maintain an ideal environment. Today’s chicken farmers are able to know exactly how much each bird eats and drinks daily as they monitor bird performance.
On a dairy farm, robotic milkers keep an exact reading of how much each cow produces. Technology can even detect if a cow develops a mild fever. The robot computer automatically will dump that milk if deemed inferior. It recognizes potentially sick cows before visible symptoms, allowing her to be treated before she gets sick.
Scientists in Owensboro using the latest lab technology developed the Ebola vaccine from tobacco plants. Researchers at the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture are working on a new crop with a potential cancer treatment right here in our Commonwealth.
And at a time of growing labor shortages, especially in agriculture, automation and innovation are the key to making farming a desirable and meaningful career path for the next generation.
Greenhouse and high tunnel technology give farmers the tools to maximize profits, enhance food safety and keep Kentucky’s agricultural heritage alive. It means we can be growing food 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And we’re not just feeding our neighbors in Kentucky. We’re feeding the world. I never would’ve believed all those years ago that the United States would be exporting 30% of the pork produced to countries around the globe. But with advances in Ag-tech, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
For more than 20 years, I had the privilege to learn about and support the cutting edge of Kentucky’s Ag-tech sector in Frankfort. I got to see agriculture from a lot of different viewpoints—from a high-tech aquaponic greenhouse in the west to social media posts about a local farmers market in eastern Kentucky mountains. And every day, I saw farmers push the boundaries of the future while raising higher yielding, healthier and more consistent crops and livestock.
Supporting the continued growth of Ag-tech in Kentucky is essential as farmers are asked to produce more from less land.
Unfortunately, there are some in Washington who want to push new regulations on the technology we use every day. Anti-innovation legislation that takes aim at the American tech industry makes no sense. Farmers rely daily on the internet and digital tools for marketing decisions, weather conditions and news that can affect their livelihood. They depend on technological advances in genetics, nutrition, environmental adaptability and all types of engineering. Any regulation that limits domestic innovation in technology will in turn result in less profit on farms and higher prices at the store.
There are a lot of big challenges facing Kentucky farm families right now, and I’m immensely proud of the hardworking men and women tackling them every day. It’s exactly the wrong time to add another unnecessary burden. Washington needs to abandon its attacks on agriculture and technology. And it should happen right now.
Kentucky’s agriculture production is at the highest levels in history. Kentucky agriculture has never done agriculture better, and we learn something every day. I am proud of the farm families and their eagerness to learn and adapt to the never-ending advancement in technology to feed an ever-changing consumer. I am proud to be a cheerleader for agriculture. COVID revealed how essential agriculture is when shelves get a little empty. Keeping those shelves full requires every ounce of new technology we can find. Limiting that development stops progress at farm level. Technology is the future of our farms, and we should work toward it together.
Warren Beeler, known as “Mr. Kentucky Agriculture,” is the former executive director of the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy. He lives on a farm in Grayson County.