Jun 28, 2023
Reps. introduce bill to advance automation research and development

Representatives Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), Max Miller (R-Ohio), and Abagail Spanberger (D-Va.) introduced a bill to establish a specialty crop mechanization and automation research and development program within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support specialty crop mechanization and automation projects. This bill is endorsed by the Specialty Crop Farm Alliance.

“The agriculture industry has always been at the forefront of innovation. Boosting mechanization research and development is no different. This program will supplement the existing limited workforce by automating some of the most physically difficult and time-consuming tasks.  Currently, farmers have a hard time attracting and retaining workers to these physically demanding jobs. At a time when input costs and pay rate for workers are at their highest, it’s critical to ensure the agriculture industry has the necessary resources to modernize and not fall behind,” said Congressman LaMalfa.

“Growing up, I worked summers with my father as a farmworker, understanding firsthand the back-breaking work of picking fruits and vegetables in the fields of the Central Coast. Decades later, despite the world around us being completely revolutionized by technological breakthroughs, farmworkers in California’s specialty crop fields still are using some of the same hand-picking and labor-intensive methods that my dad and I used,” said Rep. Carbajal. “As the son of a farmworker and someone who knows firsthand the difference technological improvements could make, I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to support research and development for specialty crop growing and harvesting. Undertaken in the right way, with guardrails like those included in our bill, breakthroughs in this space will improve the quality of life for our farmworkers, and ensure we have a more sustainable workforce that is prepared to cultivate the farms of tomorrow.”

“U.S. agriculture must have access to advanced technologies to compete in the global market, particularly with rising input and labor challenges. That is why I am proud to join my colleagues in introduction of legislation to establish the Mechanization and Automation Accelerated Research and Development Program,” remarked Congressman Max Miller. “The measure will promote advanced technologies for more efficient agriculture production, including the use of automation emphasizing innovation, training tools for farmers, and greater engagement through public/private partnerships and industry collaboration.”

“Virginia is home to many exciting specialty crops — and these fast-growing farms are supported by hardworking Virginians who want to remain at the top of their industry. This legislation recognizes their needs and would make sure American agriculture stays competitive going forward,” said Spanberger. “I’m proud to help lead this bipartisan bill to reaffirm the importance of research in this field — particularly in a moment marked by rapid change and technological innovation. As the only Virginian on the House Agriculture Committee, I’ll continue to push for projects that support our ag workforce, increase yields, and grow Virginia’s ag economy.”

“At AmericanHort we strongly support more funding in the 2023 Farm Bill for specialty crops including nursery plants and flowers.  We appreciate Congresswoman Spanberger, and others, who are working with lawmakers on a bill to authorize funds for research automation and mechanization in specialty agriculture.  Given the continued labor shortages across the agriculture sector, and our labor-intensive production, these important automation and mechanization research funds would have a material impact on the future of our specialty crops,” said Cole Mangum, vice president operations, Bell Nursery and past Board chairman of AmericanHort.

“Western Growers strongly backs the effort to accelerate the development and commercialization of automation technologies because the chronic and worsening shortage of labor is undermining our members’ ability to continue producing food here in the U.S.,” said Western Growers president and CEO Dave Puglia. “The establishment of a Specialty Crop Mechanization and Automation Research and Development Program within the USDA will provide critical support for our growers on how best to use technology to solve one of the most pressing needs of our industry.”

Specifically, this bill:

  • Establishes an industry-derived specialty crop committee that annually consults with USDA, ensuring critical feedback from, and relevancy to, the specialty crop industry
  • Provides $20 million in annual funding ($100 million over a five-year Farm Bill).
  • Prioritizes projects that address the training or retraining of any impacted employees. This includes retraining production-oriented employees to operate and maintain the machinery or systems that result from these projects, ensuring the workforce is ready to operate the farms of tomorrow.
  • Models aspects of existing USDA grant governance structures that emphasize multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional approaches, allowing for public and private research institutions and companies to partner with industry.