Broadband can meet the needs of emerging farmers and long standing rural residents to encourage rural growth

Today I attended the Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division meeting. I was hoping they might talk more about the Dep of Ag emerging farmers report but I got an interesting overview on hemp, research on ag versus rural economy and emerging farmers. Not as much broadband as I usually like – but an interesting glimpse at ag issues.

According to the State Demographer, Minnesota is diversifying. The percentage of people of color is projected to grow from 14 percent in 2005 to 25 percent by 2035. Also in 2035, the age 65+ group is expected to eclipse the under 18 population for the first time in Minnesota history. The 65+ group will rely on the tax base of the smaller, younger demographic. That’s a challenge. Balance that with the Demographer’s 2017 report (Greater Minnesota: Refined & Revisited,) that outlines differences between rural, urban, small town, larger town counties…

This report also reveals that many Minnesota counties are on the cusp of a new era of slowing or negative natural change, and will be more reliant on migration if they are to grow in the future. Future migration patterns, however, are more challenging to anticipate than natural change, as they are dependent on numerous variable factors—federal immigration policy, local and state economic conditions, changes in how and where workers work, and personal lifestyle preferences.

In short, the State demographer says that rural counties that want to grow need to be welcoming to new Americans. And if they want a strong tax base, they’ll want to entice young people. I’ve seen similar concepts and recommendations outlined in the Thriving by Design work from Growth and Justice. But there’s always a tension in change.

Listening to the emerging farmers, who include the demographic that a county needs to grow, they are pushing against some resistance or at least blindness to their needs. Even hearing about the hemp industry, it’s clear that a new approach to hemp is battling with old regulations and prejudices of marijuana.

It reminds me of when my oldest daughter was 15. She wanted to be a grownup. I wanted her to be a grownup. But we had different ideas of what that meant and how to get there. She’s 21 now and we’re a lot closer on our definitions but there were some heated conversations. I loved, especially during those dark years, when there was easy agreement.

Broadband availability is listed as a top theme in the emerging farmer report. It is a likely point of easy agreement because broadband extends beyond the needs of “emerging” farmers. For established farmers, broadband can support telehealth and help people stay at home. For non-farmers (The Center for Rural Policy started by talking about their nascent research on rural versus farm economy. They early observation seemed to find that the rural economy is larger than the farm economy.), broadband is a tool that supports economic development and education.

Broadband is a point of agreement. Broadband is a tool that helps everyone. Broadband is inherently useful but also useful as a way to unify the needs of new and “old” Minnesotans.

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

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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