WASHINGTON, DC — Rep. Scott Franklin (FL-18) and Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02) introduced H.R. 4162, the Land Grant Research Prioritization Act. This bill would provide land grant universities with dedicated access to existing U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant funding to enhance artificial intelligence (AI), mechanization and other research to develop solutions to the challenges facing America’s agricultural producers. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) plans to introduce Senate companion legislation.

“Labor shortages, inflation, supply chain disruption, invasive diseases and extreme weather have created significant challenges for American agricultural producers,” Rep. Franklin said. “AI and other important research into mechanization, invasive species and aquaculture are promising solutions to keep growers economically competitive. At a time when growers in Florida and around the country need support, our bipartisan Land Grant Research Prioritization Act is a timely fix to boost US-grown food production and keep growers on the cutting edge. I thank Congressman Bishop for joining me in this important effort.”

“We rely on America’s farmers to produce the safest, most abundant, and affordable food, fiber, and materials. Yet they face many challenges such as supply chain resiliency, workforce capacity, input costs, coping with invasive species and pests, as well as the fallout of climate change. We must ensure that we are on the cutting edge of technology that can assist our farmers and producers,” said Congressman Bishop. “For over a century, land-grant institutions – like Fort Valley State University – have been at the forefront of research, development, and extension which has allowed U.S. agriculture to thrive. I am pleased to work with Congressman Franklin through this legislation to harness the power of our 1862 and 1890 land-grant institutions to explore how mechanized harvesting and artificial intelligence can help improve U.S. agriculture.”

“Authorization for USDA to fund research into agricultural applications for artificial intelligence is essential to the future of American farms. The land-grant universities engaged in first-rate science cannot deliver it at the speed necessary to keep us globally competitive without USDA support. Funding for AI-guided agricultural science will drive the innovation that keeps America globally competitive and not reliant upon other nations for its food supply,” said Dr. J. Scott Angle, Senior Vice President of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UF/IFAS.

“As the global population increases, it’s more important than ever that agriculture is equipped to incorporate technology into our work. This kind of effort ensures that agricultural innovation remains at the forefront of our research efforts – technology is continually advancing to address significant needs in agriculture, and our ability to understand and utilize that technology is critical. An increased emphasis on development and evaluation of these technologies will enable agriculture to continue feeding the world in a safe and sustainable manner,” said Nick Place, Dean of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES).

“The Florida Strawberry Growers Association is thankful for Congressman Franklin’s foresight in promoting the sustainability of Florida’s specialty crop industries through his efforts in supporting applied artificial intelligence research in agriculture through his sponsorship of this bill,” said Kenneth Parker, Executive Director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

“The prioritization and acceleration of mechanization and automation is critical to the future of the specialty crop industry,” said Mike Joyner, President of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. “Congressman Franklin continues to be a champion for agriculture, seeking solutions for the industry’s domestic workforce crisis and working to ensure the production of U.S.-grown fresh fruits and vegetables.” 

“Advancements in mechanization to make our farms and workforces more efficient are sorely needed to level the playing field for U.S. growers. Our land grant universities are uniquely positioned to foster development of these technologies and help bring these advancements to our growers,” said Chris Butts, V.P. of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

Land grant institutions, like the University of Florida, the University of Georgia and Fort Valley State University, are leading the way in developing AI applications for agriculture. The current grant system does not provide land grant universities with dedicated access to funding for this critical research. H.R. 4162 amends the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990 to direct the USDA to prioritize AI, mechanization, and other relevant research, to address a declining workforce, increasing costs and other demands facing agricultural producers. This bill would create four new lines of research within the National Institute of Food and Agriculture allowing land grant institutions to apply for competitive grant funding. However, the bill does not mandate an increase in overall, top-line spending.

Other groups supporting H.R. 4162 include: Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida Farm Bureau, Florida A&M University, Georgia Pecan Growers Association, Vidalia Onion Business Council and Georgia Blueberry Commission.

H.R. 4162 cosponsors include: Rep. Darren Soto (FL-09); Rep. Daniel Webster (FL-11); Rep. Michael Waltz (FL-06); Rep. Neal Dunn (FL-02); Rep. Maria Salazar (FL-27); Rep. Laurel Lee (FL-15). 

Read the full bill text here.