Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

The Future of Farming Relies on Internet Connectivity

During a recent National Telecommunications and Information Administration webinar, experts dissected the economic potential of and roadblocks to precision agriculture technology in rural America.

agriculture_shutterstock_309003707
Shutterstock
Farms could contribute billions more dollars to the U.S. economy with the help of precision agriculture technology, but this can’t happen without more broadband, said experts during a National Telecommunications and Information Administration webinar yesterday.

Titled “Smart Agriculture: Driving Innovation in Rural America,” the webinar featured, among other speakers, Megan Nelson, an economic analyst with the American Farm Bureau Federation. She shared research showing that U.S. farms could generate $18 billion to $23 billion annually if they had high-speed connectivity and adopted the latest technologies. 

“We need broadband access,” Nelson said during the webinar. “We need accurate broadband maps … We can’t have spotty service because there’s a rainy day.” 

Both Nelson and Dennis Buckmaster, agricultural and biological engineering professor at Purdue University, outlined numerous ways technology can boost American farms. 

Buckmaster, for instance, covered a wide range of farming tech that can do everything from tracking weather conditions, which can be tied to massive crop losses, to combining data sets for improved decision-making. He emphasized the potential impact of artificial intelligence, which can lead to automated processes and allow less-experienced farmers to tap into the knowledge and expertise of other individuals. 

Nelson said tech could help farmers better connect to markets and get “people aware of what they’re growing.” 

Such great potential, though, won’t come about without reliable high-speed Internet. In 2019, the United Soybean Board released a report indicating that almost two-thirds of surveyed farmers don’t have “adequate internet connectivity to run their businesses.” 

In a recent editorial, Jahmy Hindman, chief technology officer of John Deere, said the pressure on farmers to provide food for a projected 9.7 billion people worldwide needs to be offset by superior connectivity. 

“There are already disruptions to the meat supply that are persistent as a consequence of the pandemic,” Hindman wrote. “Dairy farmers are also being challenged, as 50 percent of demand from restaurants, school cafeterias, and other food services is cut off. Contending with these added pressures makes it even more important to look for solutions to make other aspects of a farmer’s job more seamless — and rural broadband is key to that.”

Local stories confirm farmers’ struggles with connectivity. Two Maine farmers reported that their sales are all online, but their Internet service is so slow that they frequently must wait until night, when fewer people are using the Internet, to actually do business. In Nebraska, farmers who live just a few miles outside of a city like Lincoln may experience difficulty uploading files to the cloud. 

In regard to connecting farms, the answer may not be as simple as identifying a last-mile solution. During the webinar, Chad Rupe, administrator of the Rural Utility Service for USDA, said that you can’t get to the last mile without sufficient middle-mile infrastructure. 

Rupe said he’s been working with electric cooperatives to help provide middle-mile fiber. He pointed out that most farms lacked electricity until co-ops were able to help, with the implication being that co-ops may have to play a large role in bringing high-speed Internet to farms. 

Rupe also talked about a new USDA rule that allows up to 10 percent of a grant or loan from a Rural Development program to be used for broadband infrastructure. This change could give states and local areas more flexibility in how they may fund rural broadband. 

“Through this regulation, RD enables limited integration of broadband deployment with other rural investments funded through its broad suite of programs,” the USDA rule states. “It does so without adding the burden of seeking funding through separate program areas.”

Buckmaster mentioned a unique solution to the farm broadband problem in Indiana. Wabash Heartland Innovation Network, a regional group that covers 10 Indiana counties, has a plan for an aerostat, a kind of blimp, to provide “broadband for tens of miles,” Buckmaster said. 

Buckmaster added that the results of the aerostat project will be shared through a Global City Teams Challenge SuperCluster that he co-chairs. 

Outside of broadband, another significant issue with precision agriculture tech is interoperability, Buckmaster said. For example, a livestock feeding system should be able to communicate with a weather tracking system so that the feeding system can know the temperatures that cows have experienced. A roadblock to interoperability is lack of cooperation between companies due to competition. 

“They ought to work together and be interoperable,” Buckmaster said. 

Government Technology is a sister site to Governing. Both are divisions of e.Republic.

Government Technology is Governing's sister e.Republic publication, offering in-depth coverage of IT case studies, emerging technologies and the implications of digital technology on the policies and management of public sector organizations.
Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
Sponsored
Workplace safety is in the spotlight as government leaders adapt to a prolonged pandemic.
Sponsored
While government employees, students and the general public had to wait in line for hours in the beginning of the pandemic, at-home test kits make it easy to diagnose for the novel coronavirus in less than 30 minutes.
Sponsored
Governments around the nation are working to design the best vaccine policies that keep both their employees and their residents safe. Although the latest data shows a variety of polarizing perspectives, there are clear emerging best practices that leading governments are following to put trust first: creating policies that are flexible and provide a range of options, and being in tune with the needs and sentiments of their employees so that they are able to be dynamic and accommodate the rapidly changing situation.
Sponsored
Service delivery and the individual experience within health and human services (HHS) is often very siloed and fragmented.
Sponsored
In this episode, Marianne Steger explains why health care for Pre-Medicare retirees and active employees just got easier.
Sponsored
Government organizations around the world are experiencing the consequences of plagiarism firsthand. A simple mistake can lead to loss of reputation, loss of trust and even lawsuits. It’s important to avoid plagiarism at all costs, and government organizations are held to a particularly high standard. Fortunately, technological solutions such as iThenticate allow government organizations to avoid instances of text plagiarism in an efficient manner.
Sponsored
Creating meaningful citizen experiences in a post-COVID world requires embracing digital initiatives like secure and ethical data sharing, artificial intelligence and more.
Sponsored
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?
Sponsored
As more state and local jurisdictions have placed a priority on creating sustainable and resilient communities, many have set strong targets to reduce the energy use and greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with commercial and residential buildings.