Farmers need better broadband to take advantage of precision ag benefits

The University of Virginia is looking at the benefits of precision agriculture…

Sitting in the cab of a combine harvester on a soybean farm in Wells, Minnesota this summer, University of Virginia assistant media studies professor Christopher Ali was amazed as he looked down at the dashboard.

Using GPS, the harvester could, in real time, map, monitor and record massive amounts of data – such as crop yield and soil moisture levels – which would let a farmer know exactly which rows required attention.

“It was the coolest thing,” Ali said. “The capabilities were just incredible.”

But those benefits are only possible where there is adequate broadband…

Unfortunately, the vast majority of farmers in the Midwest aren’t able to utilize this “precision agriculture” technology because they don’t get high-speed internet, according to Ali. He said companies don’t want to put in fiber optic cable – considered the gold standard – because of its great expense.

And public policy isn’t supporting increased broadband…

Ali said the U.S. offers $6 billion in subsidies to telecommunications companies for the purpose of installing rural broadband, but the funds aren’t making their way out to the farms.

“We’re giving CenturyLink $500 million a year for the next six years, and CenturyLink has announced that they’re not going to upgrade their network,” Ali said. “They’ll roll out what they have, which is copper wire, but they won’t upgrade to fiber and that stinks.”

But there are efforts within the cooperatives…

“Co-ops are the unsung heroes of rural broadband,” Ali said. “They don’t need the return on investment that the giant companies need because they don’t have shareholders to satisfy. They have community members to service. And I think because they don’t need a 20 percent profit margin, they’re able to take a few more risks. Wouldn’t it be great if public policy could help these co-ops leverage or mitigate some of the risk?”

This entry was posted in economic development, MN, Policy, Rural by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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