Advancing Digital Agriculture and Conservation

May 20, 27, 29 and June 3, 2020, Farm Foundation, Cornell University Initiative for Digitial Agriculture (CIDA), the Center for the Economics of Sustainability at the University of Illinois and the University of Illinois Center for Digital Agriculture (CDA) hosted a set of virtual policy workshops on Advancing Digital Agriculture and Conservation. Hosted via zoom, workshop presentations and discussions encompassed policies that support development and deployment of new digital agricultural capabilities (e.g., privacy rules, standards, public investments, workforce training, infrastructure), as well as new digital capabilities that support policy innovations (e.g., more cost-effective conservation investments, more effective targeting of conservation practices, reducing transaction costs of administering incentive schemes).

Session 1: Risks and Opportunities of Digital Agriculture for Environmental Conservation

The session focus covered the changing landscape of technology and agriculture, with a particular focus on both the risks and opportunities of technology for conservation. This broad focus set the stage for our additional sessions and anticipate potential policy implications and discussions. Panelist for this session included: Charles Baron, Chief Innovation Officer and Co-Founder Farmers Business Network and Jason Weller, Vice President of Truterra Land O’Lakes. The conversation was facilitated by Kathy Baylis from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Session 2: Conservation Implementation and Policy Perspectives

This session brought together leaders across the agricultural technology and conservation sectors with those working in the policy arena discussing agri-environmental policies, barriers or constraints to making them work, and how so-called big data or digital agriculture can potentially serve to overcome those barriers. Issues of data privacy, data-use limitations, and safe harbor considerations were also considered. Panelist included: Steve Hagen, Co-Founder, Chief Operating Officer and Senior Scientist Dagan, Inc., Alyssa Charney, Legislative Assistant for Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA and Sarah Beebout, National Program Leader-Sustainable Intensification USDA Agricultural Research Service, Office of National Programs. The conversation was facilitated by Jonathan Coppes from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Session 3: Mobilizing Data for Conservation: On- and Off-Farm Perspectives

The session addressed interplay between on-farm and off-farm elements of platforms to practice digital agriculture. A diverse set of panelists included Christy Slay, Director, Technical Alignment with the Sustainability Consortium, and Andrew Nelson, Farmer and Software Engineer, Nelson Farms, Inc., and Silver Creek Farms, Inc., who, among others, provided the perspectives of a producer, an upstream input supply perspective, and a downstream food industry processor/retailer perspective on questions and topics such as how farmers and agribusiness can be supported by the public sector, and vice versa; the risks of public and private complementarity; the infrastructure necessary to scale and scope, including the digital infrastructure and enabling conditions. This session, as the others, continued to look at these issues with a lens focused on policy opportunities. The conversation was facilitated by Steven Wolf of Cornell University.

Session 4: Research Opportunities

This session opened with a wrap-up discussion, building upon the momentum of the prior workshop sessions, and led into breakout sessions focused on topics of interest so that collaborators had the chance to discuss opportunities for further action and research.

This session was intended to be a working, collaborative opportunity for researchers and policy experts to network and plan opportunities for further action and research.

The digital workshops were a huge success with more than 150 participants in each session. The collaboration amongst panelists and participants was beneficial to the conversation about the future of digital agriculture and conservation.

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