How Ag Tech Can Make North Dakota Stronger

Written by: Andrew Jason

If you look at the state’s economic pie, the two biggest pieces are agriculture and energy. Any state that’s dependent on two industries is at risk because if one of those industries takes a dive, it can have a drastic effect on the state.

However, what if we made a whole new piece of pie that we could all enjoy? That’s what Senator John Hoeven believes we can do with ag tech. We sat down with Senator Hoeven ahead of Secretary of Agriculture’s Sonny Perdue visit last month to talk about adding to North Dakota’s economy, bene ts for independent workers and where our state is headed in terms of agriculture.

Q: You’re advocating for tech entrepreneurship as the third wave for our state’s economy. Talk about why that’s the right move for our state.
A: We’ve always been a leader in ag and there’s no question about it. We’re leading the way in agriculture nationally and internationally. And now in energy too. We’re an energy powerhouse for this nation and not just in oil and gas but all different kinds of energy, both traditional and renewable. I see the third leg on that stool as technology and specifically tech entrepreneurship. These young companies are full of young entrepreneurs with innovative and creative people who are utilizing technology to overcome the barriers of distance. They’re not only applying it to our top two industries, ag and energy, but in so many different ways.

It leverages all of our strengths: our incredible work ethic and a great education. Our distance from some of the major metropolitan markets is not an issue when you’re talking technology. It’s a natural force and we’re on our way.

Q: We’re hearing a lot about the legacy of these companies that have been here like Ed Melroe with Bobcat. Talk about the legacy of ag tech in the culture of our state and the role it plays in our state.
A: When you talk about agriculture, it’s that we’re the leader in innovation, precision agriculture and all the things that are coming. No one is more high tech than our farmers. When you look at some of the folks like Barry Batcheller who’s now one of the drivers behind the Grand Farm initiative, he’s somebody who’s been driving ag technology development his whole life, whether you want to go back to Steiger Tractor, Phoenix International, which is now John Deere Electronic Solutions and makes all the electronic controls for John Deere equipment globally and now, of course, with Appareo. It’s just a great example of somebody who has combined technology and agriculture his whole life.

Q: The nature of work is changing as technology advances and the gig economy is creating more independent workers. You’re proposing the Portable Bene ts for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act. Talk about that.
A: It’s vital. You, everybody you work with, nobody is just going to work in one job their whole life. It used to be that way. My father and grandfather, they had one job that they did their whole life.

Now, you have a lot of different jobs. You have to be mobile and the rate of change has increased. You have to have portability of benefits so that you’ll take that next entrepreneurial step or make that investment, start that new company and do all those things that are a part of this dynamic economy that we have. You have to have some way to take some of those benefits and that healthcare with you. That’s the whole idea behind the Portability Act.

Q: Where is that and where do you see that going?
A: I think that we’ll not only pass this bill but we’ll pass more along those lines. It’s about people having more control over their compensation and bene ts so they can continue to go to different jobs and continue to be entrepreneurial throughout their career.

Q: From a policy standpoint, what needs to be addressed before automation becomes mainstream? You’re also bringing in the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a couple of weeks who will be talking about some of those exact issues.
A: Automation is happening in so many ways and big ways, whether you look at energy or technology. This means more energy, better environmental stewardship and lower costs. It’s the same thing with agriculture. We’re driving precision ag in so many ways. Everything from GPS and having the equipment communicate whether you’re planting, fertilizing or anything else.

Or look at what we’re doing with unmanned aviation. We are a global leader. That ties back to energy and agriculture, as well but it ties to all these other uses, including military applications, customs and border protection and almost everything we do.

Across the board, you’re seeing North Dakota lead in technology in all these different areas.

Sonny Perdue will be here on Saturday, April 27. He’s actually going to be part of kicking off this Grand Farm concept and who better to do it than the Secretary of Agriculture for the United States who comes out of a farm background and truly understands the role of technology in agriculture.

Q: When you think of Grand Farm, it’s much more than just the farm that’s being created. What are you most excited to see come out of Grand Farm?
A: Again, the leadership that North Dakota is manifesting in our core industries of ag, energy and tech entrepreneurship but continue to evolve in all of these areas by combining them in a way that nobody else is doing because that’s what helps create more jobs, opportunities and excitement. I love the fact that we’re keeping our young people here, bringing more of them here and driving all this job creation for the future in the Valley and North Dakota.

Q: As the trend goes toward more automation, more acreage and fewer workers for farms, what does that mean for rural towns? The trend has been for people to flock to urban centers like Fargo. What will happen to the Hettinger, North Dakota, of the world? Will they be able to support grocery stores, restaurants, etc.?
A: You have to build on your strengths and find your niche, whether that’s in tourism, agriculture or energy. For example, as we bring agriculture and energy together, you create these opportunities for an ag energy park like Spiritwood, North Dakota, where you’re combining the two.

I think for small communities, they got to find their strengths, and their niche and build on it for a viable future.

Q: You have the opportunity to reach a wide audience when it comes to Grand Farm and the future of agriculture in our state. What message do you want to leave with them?
Leadership. We can compete with anyone, anywhere, anytime and do very well. We always have to have that mindset that we’re going to go out and drive the technology, drive entrepreneurship, drive innovation and we’re going to benefit as a result. That’s what this concept is all about.

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