Farm Progress

Farm tech shows its stuff at Capitol

Slideshow: Consumers, kids and politicians get firsthand look at modern farm tools during the Future of Food and Farming event in Washington, D.C.

Andy Castillo

May 14, 2024

10 Slides

Perched atop the captain’s chair of a new John Deere S-Series combine, 1-year-old Joseph Crawford can’t see over the steering wheel. But that doesn’t stop him from imagining that it’s the 11th hour of harvest season and dark clouds are on the horizon.

In his mind, he’s maneuvering through a Midwest cornfield — not on the National Mall overlooking the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on a sunny day in May.

“He knows it’s a harvester because he watches a lot of Tractor Ted,” his mom, Carolyn Crawford, said as her aspiring young farmer climbed over the cones of the combine’s CF12 StalkMaster attachment. Beyond, a line of preschoolers waited for their turn to sit inside the cab.

In the shadow of the Washington Monument, the Association of Equipment Manufacturer’s biannual Future of Food and Farming advocacy event on the National Mall brought out an estimated 15,000 curious onlookers over three days. It was awash with kids like little Joseph and suited-up policymakers who met with equipment brand representatives about legislation that could impact U.S. farmers in the near future.

“This is to bring people out of the Hill and out of their homes so they can see that this industry [agriculture] is not antiquated,” said Megan Tanel, AEM president. “It’s about perception.”

Conquering greenhouse gases

Twenty-five OEMs and 30 equipment-related organizations showcased their innovations. Among them was:

  • New Holland’s T6180 methane-powered tractor, which is still being tested in U.S. fields

  • Precision Planting’s Radicle Lab, the world’s first fully automated soil laboratory

  • John Deere and GUSS Automation’s electric autonomous herbicide orchard sprayer

The event featured 10 hourlong panel conversations and addresses delivered by politicians including U.S. Reps. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., David Rouzer, R-N.C., and USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small.

“Everyone has a connection to what’s on the mall … whether you’ve driven a tractor or gone to the grocery store. You’re all connected to ag, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that we’re supporting our farmers and supporting our food system,” Small said.

In the face of stressors, she noted precision farming’s ability to reduce costs, collect vital data and “produce a crop that’s healthier, more productive and gives a higher value for our farmers.”

Advocating for farmers

Johnson and Rouzer talked about the farm bill and its impacts on rural America during a panel discussion moderated by Kip Eideberg, AEM’s executive vice president of government and industry relations and global public policy.

“I always like to tell people that if you can produce your own food, your own fiber, your own oil and gas energy — if you can be independent in all of those areas — it allows you to be more prosperous at home, with much more leverage abroad,” Rouzer said. The farm bill “really has a national security aspect, too. It’s not just food security; it’s also national security.”

Noting key items that must be in the bill, Rouzer included ensuring producers have a “safety net that accommodates and accounts for increases in inflation and production costs. It also must equalize and help our producers compete worldwide.”

Johnson stressed that U.S. farmers must be able to compete in the global marketplace. Bringing broadband networks to rural areas is another crucial item that lawmakers expect to address in the farm bill.

“We need to make sure we’re building networks that don’t just meet our needs today,” Johnson said. “I’m happy to say that the way this farm bill is trending right now, we are going to invest in high-speed networks rather than networks that will be obsolete the day we flip the switch.”

Darren Havens, director of production and precision ag marketing at John Deere, says his brand was at the event to “represent farmers and ranchers across the U.S. by helping legislators better understand what modern agriculture is about, and how they need to support their constituents.”

Heath Kehnemund, chief marketing specialist with Agco, said the face-to-face interactions were aimed at encouraging legislators to “build policies that help growers.”

John Somers, AEM vice president, said about 18 political groups from USDA, EPA, and other national and international agencies toured booths during the three-day event.

Hear teens' answers to farming questions during the event below:

About the Author(s)

Andy Castillo

Andy Castillo started his career in journalism about a decade ago as a television news cameraperson and producer before transitioning to a regional newspaper covering western Massachusetts, where he wrote about local farming.

Between military deployments with the Air Force and the news, he earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Bay Path University, building on the English degree he earned from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He's a multifaceted journalist with a diverse skill set, having previously worked as an EMT and firefighter, a nightclub photographer, caricaturist, features editor at the Greenfield Recorder and a writer for GoNomad Travel. 

Castillo splits his time between the open road and western Massachusetts with his wife, Brianna, a travel nurse who specializes in pediatric oncology, and their rescue pup, Rio. When not attending farm shows, Castillo enjoys playing music, snowboarding, writing, cooking and restoring their 1920 craftsman bungalow.

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