A new report says farmers in the United States need better broadband and in more places – their home offices, their fields and their communities. Needs range from faster upload and download speeds to better data about available networks and scalable networks that can be updated as needs grow and change. The report from the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society showed how broadband also is key to sustainable farming. Report author Jordan Arnold said connected technologies allow farmers to measure their inputs and outputs, creating opportunities for more efficient resource management.
“One study finds that precision agriculture improves fertilizer placement efficiency by 7%, and it could improve fertilizer efficiency by another 14% with wider adoption,” he said. “And so we see broadband as key to sustainability.”
In 2019, a United Soybean Board study found 60% of ranchers and farmers didn’t feel they had the connectivity to properly run their business.
Heather Hampton Knodle, who farms with her husband at Knodle Ltd., their family farm, said there are far more software-based applications farmers could be using – but many require much more upload capacity from the field, and working with data at the farm headquarters. She said that’s a challenge in areas where high-speed internet service is limited. Knodle said she believes broadband is paramount not only to farming but rural entrepreneurship.
“Any farm is actually a small business, and we need to have access to real-time information,” she said. “So, the speed of that data really matters, especially when it comes to making decisions related to marketing.”
She added that it’s especially important that broadband expansion efforts focus on the last mile of service and the middle mile. But in some rural areas, ongoing operating and maintenance costs are issues in broadband buildout discussions.
Arnold noted that the report recommends adopting high-performance standards, ensuring broadband maps have mobile coverage on farmland, and adopting comprehensive state broadband plans.
“When everything is connected by a broadband network,” she said, “you create not only new opportunities for agriculture, but also for remote education and training, for teleworking, for telemedicine, all those things.”