Randy Renze 2016-10-25 00:21:47
The regulatory environment for American agriculture is changing and, depending on your vantage point, it isn’t for the better. Regardless of your opinion on the issue, production agriculture is getting more regulation, in more areas, and some would say, at an increasing velocity. As a result, whether related to the food, fiber, or fuel that agriculture produces or the equipment, inputs, or practices that it employs, don’t look for any return to the good ol’ days. More oversight is expected The American consumer, interest groups, and regulatory backers are seemingly giving a nod to more oversight in many areas: certification of crops, labeling of products and foodstuffs, supervision of production practices, and permitting of autonomous technologies. The stated reasons can be as varied as safety, health, environment, and sustainability⎯or simply precautionary principles. As the ag industry moves increasingly into the world of global trade, the cost of access is more export scrutiny, which usually means more product certification and labeling. Up to now, North America has been an island in a sea of regulatory zeal, as the rest of the world mostly looks to legislation for directing industry (including agriculture). This regulatory burden will likely continue to expand into North American agriculture as more export markets and products are added. The present regulatory process derives, in part, from the birth of the European common market and its continuing development within the European Union (EU). The EU certification scheme (CE mark) provides the model for the rest of the world to emulate—and emulate they have. Throughout the world, under the guidance of the WTO, the EU model underpins most regulatory and certification schemes currently in use, regardless of the form of government. The compulsory certification system in China (CCC), the Eurasian Customs Union certification system (EAC) in Russia, and the Eurocentric leanings of South American countries—including Brazil and Argentina among others—all stand as examples.. For all the above reasons, it seems that American agriculture’s free-market advantage of producing what we want, where we want, and how we want is quickly slipping away. GMO crops, nutrient and chemical application, and machine structure and operation are increasingly being impacted by oversight at home and abroad. As the public and the market continue to demand more in the areas of safety and regulatory compliance, the big question is: What strategy should production agriculture employ to ensure it has a voice in the direction that society is pushing the industry? Or more directly, how do we provide safe foods, safe inputs, safe environments, safe equipment, and safe practices in a cost-effective and equitable manner? Finding our voice The development of technical, product, and industry standards is a proactive approach in which the ag industry can provide viable, cost-effective solutions for the legislative, rule-making, and regulatory processes in North America and the world. Addressing regulatory oversight through a multi-stakeholder standards development process provides an opportunity to deliver, in a non-adversarial setting, fact-based and consensus-based solutions. This approach can advocate for solutions that highlight good stewardship while sharing knowledge locally and globally. In free-trade discussions, well-constructed product and technical standards can also bolster the ag industry’s position, giving production agriculture more leverage in discussions of harmonization, conformity assessment, and equivalency. Looking at the horizon, many of the grand challenges that we face go beyond standards for machine structure and function. The focus is rapidly moving into two areas: (1) the ecosystems in which machines are operating, and (2) the integrated cloud-based systems used to link suppliers, producers, distributors, customers, and regulators. In the near future, areas of regulatory impact will include chemical use and drift, nutrient application and loss, soil health and erosion, and product traceability and labeling. Regardless of the issue, producers will be asked to validate their operational parameters, practices, inputs, and product content. Assessments of “potential” spray drift, nutrient loss, and soil loss will be required outputs and will become factors in real-time operational decisions. All this will require the ag industry to measure, assess, and document its status and progress in consistent, meaningful ways for each of these factors and report to the affected constituencies, including producers, end users, and regulators or other third parties. Taking the lead in standards Addressing these challenges will require more complex cross-functional standards development teams than typically have been formed in the past. Beyond equipment manufacturers, safety organizations, government agencies, and research communities, additional support will be needed from on-line forums, farmers, commodity and inputs trade groups, and e-business systems integrators. Projects are underway today that leverage more collaborative relationships, including an innovative approach to addressing spray drift through the use of mechanistic modeling, as well as another avenue addressing sustainability of agricultural production systems. Given the increasing speed of technological and regulatory change, the formation of cross-functional standards development associations (and thereby innovative approaches) bodes well for production agriculture and will help achieve useful results in this dynamic environment. Standards development requires that developers understand the market and act in a timely manner. Waiting until the market, the public, or regulators are demanding action only means that the standards development community is two or three years behind where due diligence says it should be. Our efforts shouldn’t be premature; more importantly, they shouldn’t come too late. ASABE member Randy Renze, Principal, RJRenze Product Services LLC, Ankeny, Iowa, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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