AAI’s Moss Talks Artificial Intelligence and Agriculture With the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

In a May 23, 2022 article, Who hacked the slaughterhouse? When robots and AI take over farms, Diana Moss highlighted how data and digital farming factor into competition issues involving agriculture and cropping systems. From the article:

…Still, even farmers with access to digitized tools are encountering problems, according to Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute. Farmers who sign technology agreements with big agricultural biotech companies often sign away their rights to the data, leading to what’s known as a “closed cropping system.”

“The closed cropping system basically says, ‘Look, you get to use Monsanto products only. Or you get to use Dow products only,’” Moss said of farmers’ choices for the proprietary seeds, chemicals, and more that go hand-in-hand with corporate data collection. “The big ag biotechs are engineering their cropping systems to be non-interoperative with rival technologies.”

Once farmers are locked into a company that holds their data, both farmers and consumers will pay higher prices, Moss said: “It contributes to a very, very fragile agricultural supply chain.”

How can the risks of automated agriculture be minimized? Advanced technology in agriculture is not inherently bad and is poised to deliver benefits. That said, problems arise when humans fail to predict and prevent the unintended consequences of its use.

“Much like in the digital tech sector with Facebook, Amazon, and Google, it’s all about having just a few or a single dominant player with really strong incentives to use data to control competition, to the detriment of growers and consumers,” Moss said. “Merger control and strong antitrust enforcement is really the starting point for controlling all of this.”