April 28, 2022

Tech Policy Lab Releases Whitepaper on Agricultural Technology Policy

Ways to Grow: New Directions for Agricultural Technology Policy
New Tech Policy Lab whitepaper highlights need for balance between expanding agricultural technology and investment supporting regional production

SEATTLE, Wash., April 27, 2022 – The pandemic opened our eyes to a longstanding reality: the American food system cannot handle disruption. And there is another crisis on the horizon if steps are not taken to address foundational issues.

Farming in this country is at a crossroads. Increasing investment in productivity-focused technology is impacting agriculture in ways that need to be explored, according to a new whitepaper from the University of Washington’s Tech Policy Lab.

“Ways to Grow: New Directions for Agricultural Technology Policy” highlights the need for attention around how automation and digitization, also known as “precision agriculture,” are being implemented across the country. These tools need to be considered alongside ways to ensure a resilient, robust system, the writers say, rather than only looking at cost efficiency and volume.

“Agricultural policy is tech policy,” said Ryan Calo, UW Law professor and co-director of the Tech Policy Lab. “Exclusive​ investment in precision agriculture is unwise. It may be true that precision agriculture increases production and efficiency, which is good. But it has unintended consequences as well, and investment in sensors and automation shouldn’t come at the expense of investing in tech for civic agriculture.”

The paper advocates for devoting resources to “civic agriculture,” a more regional focus that places importance on soil restoration, storage and local supply-chain resiliency as part of environmental and economic health. It also highlights ways the dependence on technology can lead to problems with equipment and communications, basic elements that are central to surviving a crisis.

The paper focuses as much on long-term impacts as on the immediate effects.

As issues such as climate change loom large, the paper says, we can anticipate even greater fallout from the brittleness of America’s agricultural system. This crisis presents a challenge as much as an opportunity to take a broader view of how technology is implemented.

Read the full publication here.

The Tech Policy Lab is a unique, interdisciplinary collaboration at the University of Washington that formally bridges three units: the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, the Information School, and the School of Law. Its mission is to help policymakers, broadly defined, make wiser and more inclusive technology policy.

Robin Blomster
Tech Policy Lab

Alex Bolton
Program Manager
Tech Policy Lab