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Broadband Access Becoming an Increasingly Important Amenity in Agriculture

  • Agricultural operations have increasingly adopted digital innovations that require high-speed internet access
  • Places lacking in broadband access tend to be concentrated in rural areas, which may inhibit technological advances among farmers and ranchers
  • Increased calls and efforts to enhance rural broadband access to keep up with digital solutions

Farmers have long embraced technology in order to maximize their yields and grow crops more efficiently. While agricultural workers are eager to implement the increasingly digital solutions that can assist their operations, they are often running up against a key problem: a lack of access to high-speed broadband internet access.

An recent FCC report determined that about 19 million Americans lack access to broadband, while independent researchers suggest the number could be closer to 42 million. Places with inefficient access are concentrated in rural areas, meaning farms and ranches are most likely to be affected. A 2017 USDA report determined that 27 percent of American farms have no internet access.

Broadband access can support smart farm equipment that tracks data on the job, communicates with other machinery, and identifies any technical problems well before a farmer notices them. Digital tools can also help farmers determine how much fertilizer or other materials they need to purchase, keep up with information on world markets and other issues affecting demand for their product, and have ancillary benefits such as better educational opportunities or access to telemedicine.

In an article for Fast Company, John Deere CTO Jahmy Hindman urges the rapid expansion of rural broadband to allow farmers to take advantage of any current and future technological advances. The American Farm Bureau Federation has also voiced its support for achieving this goal through tax incentives, grants, and/or regulations. The USDA says it is currently pursuing a major investment into broadband access to underserved rural areas under Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

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