Bipartisan bill would help specialty crops

OLD TECHNOLOGY Congress is considering bill to add new technologies to old standbys, like this tractor at a San Benito County farm. Credit: Barry Holtzclaw

Congressman Jimmy Panetta, 20th District Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Agriculture Research Caucus, has introduced the Specialty Crop Mechanization Prize Challenge Act.

The bipartisan legislation incentivizes innovative agriculture technology development and deployment. The bill also encourages public-private partnerships between agriculture industry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop mechanization technology to alleviate workforce and cultivation shortfalls.

“The Specialty Crop Mechanization Prize Challenge Act is an important way to inject innovative federal investments in the central coast of California’s agriculture industry,” said Panetta.  “Research, development and evaluation of new specialty crop technologies can help farmers, farmworkers, processors and shippers at all levels of the supply chain.”

“Innovation in agricultural technology will benefit farmers and their employees, while strengthening ties between Silicon Valley and farm country,” California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson said.

“Farmers of many crops and commodities would welcome new robotic or automated methods that would be practical, safe and efficient. We thank Rep. Panetta for introducing this bill and look forward to reaping the benefits of the public-private partnerships it would create.”

“California fruit, vegetable and tree nut farmers face many daunting challenges, including water scarcity and labor shortages, which threaten the continued production of a safe, healthy and affordable domestic food supply,” said Western Growers President & CEO Tom Nassif.  “Solutions to these problems will require the rapid acceleration of technology geared toward agriculture. We are pleased that Rep. Panetta understands the role government can play, alongside private sector investments, in speeding the development of innovations aimed at ensuring California farmers meet the needs of a growing population with fewer resources and a smaller footprint.”

The Central Coast is home to a $5 billion agriculture industry, producing over 100 different specialty crops. The fruits and vegetables that drive the local economy, such as strawberries, lettuce and spinach, are particularly labor-intensive. This legislation aims to support the development and deployment of technologies to alleviate stresses on the existing workforce and to mechanize activities where there is not a readily available workforce.

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