MN farmers upload overnight? Maybe ag policy can change that. Mtg Feb 13 at 9:45am

Tomorrow (Feb 13) at 9:45, the Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division is meeting at the State Office Building (Room 200). I hope to attend and livestream, in preparation I wanted to check out the MN Department of Agriculture’s legislative report on emerging farmers.

The report defines emerging farmers and distills what they learned from a series of listening sessions with farmers across the state. They  broke up the notes into 11 themes:

  1. Financial Barriers
  2. Discrimination/Racism/Sexism
  3. Land Availability and Prices
  4. Health Insurance/Rural Health Care
  5. Available Resources Serve Larger-Scale Agriculture
  6. Education/Training Resources
  7. Climate Change
  8. Market Access and Infrastructure
  9. Culturally Appropriate Resources
  10. Navigating Regulations
  11. And Broadband Availability

Here’s what they say about broadband…

Many participants cited online resources like videos, reports, and peer-to-peer learning platforms as primary methods for finding information about farming. Implicit in these resources is the ability to access and use the Internet. The issue of broadband availability is widely discussed in the State as a key component to rural vitality and viability. (Minnesota Office of Broadband Development). Most efforts in expanding broadband access focus on download speeds of 25 megabytes per second (Mbps), which allows enough speed for video streaming without interference. Minnesota has a plan to achieve statewide 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds by 2022. Currently, 92.7 percent of Minnesotans have access to this level of service, though that number is lower in rural areas with just 83.7 percent of households served at this speed. Further effort to expand broadband service and improve speeds is an important part of supporting emerging farmers’ access to educational resources and networking. 18

One part of the broadband effort that is often overlooked is the upload speed. Upload speeds are important for users that are creating data or content to put online, such as e-commerce sites, or using any sort of smart-farming technology (GPS, sensor-based data collection, etc.) Most broadband initiatives consider upload speeds of 3Mbps as high-speed, but users at this speed are often left with slow or non-usable connections during the upload. Some farmers report leaving their computers on overnight to upload data from their sensors, or they struggle to update social media or inventory on their e-commerce websites.

Broadband is critically important for many rural and urban development strategies, including healthcare access, commerce, teleworking, and continuing education. Both upload and download speeds should be considered in any public or private investments in broadband. Additional attention toward adoption and use, beyond just infrastructure and deployment, is also critical for any broadband initiative.

Compared to racism and climate change, broadband availability seems pretty attainable; it relies on infrastructure and not changing opinions or habits. And once won, broadband can help address other themes – such affordable access to healthcare through telehealth, online access to training resources – even culturally appropriate resources, online market access (via websites, social media and more) and access to information (in multiple languages) and people to help find out about available land or navigate regulations.

Land O’Lakes’ Beth Ford promotes broadband to Economic Club of Minnesota

MPR News reports…

[Beth] Ford, who has headed the 99-year-old cooperative [Land O’Lakes] since 2018, called on more investment in broadband, education and health care. She said her company was even planning to launch a half-dozen rural “service centers” to aggregate high-speed internet, telemedicine and other amenities.

“Every business is a digital business now, every business is a technology business, and agriculture is one of the last sectors to be disrupted,” Ford said. “Especially by e-business and technology.”

She mentions agriculture and mental health…

Networked technology can help bring farming and food production back to profitability, she said, but it isn’t sufficiently available. She said that of the 24 million people who lack access to broadband technology, 19 million are in rural America.

That’s putting food producers at a disadvantage: not just in terms of the technology in their tractor cabs, but in the schools their kids attend, the clinics where they seek medical and mental health care and in the markets where they could find innovations in marketing and distribution, Ford said.

She talks about how big business can help in the community…

She called broadband access a $150 billion problem, and suggested it should be a national priority like rural electrification in the 1930s.

Ford also said Land O’ Lakes was talking to leaders from Microsoft, Amazon and other companies about direct action in some of the more than 7,000 communities where her cooperative has a presence.

“What we want to do is to directly be a convener. To take over a storefront if we can,” she said. “Drop a line in, get some high-speed internet. Have some boosters, have four or five work stations, where kids can access technology to do their homework… take Advanced Placement courses. Where they can pick up fresh groceries.”

Broadband helps agriculture more efficient – helps the environment

Agri Pulse reports…

These are the telltale signs of climate change challenges, but they can be met head-on with the kind of data that advanced broadband can deliver – when it’s available.

Today’s high-tech farming depends on data – from remote sensors, from tractors, irrigation equipment, nutrient application machinery, and harvesters that communicate. Sensors and tracking devices around a modern farm can pump out readings from soil moisture to fertilizer needs to climate conditions inside a chicken house.

The possibilities for productivity improvement, budget efficiencies, environmental benefits and the ability to respond to continually changing growing conditions are endless, but as one technologically-sophisticated farmer, Trey Hill of Harbor View Farmers, told one of us recently, “we generate a lot of data, we just don’t have the means to transport it.”

Turns out some folks are running their farms on off cell phones…

Trey operates his ten-thousand-acre farm – an operation often described as not only technologically sophisticated but environmentally so – on a cell network. He reaps huge benefits from his technology, turning on irrigation from his cell phone thus saving water and applying fertilizer only where he needs it, saving money and ending over use that is neither financially nor environmentally sustainable. But at what cost? Trey and other farmers are subject to giant cell phone bills and they are unable to access their technologies on fields that are remote and without cell coverage.

Another friend of ours in rural Maryland spends as much as $1,000 per month to run his agricultural operations off of a mobile cellular network.

They need better…

The lack of broadband in rural America isn’t a mystery. As best as the government can tell, less than 60% of rural America has access to broadband at 100 Mbps download speed; a typical speed – not even exceptionally fast – in other parts of the nation.

Moreover, not all internet access is advanced broadband. The USDA reported in 2019 that 22% of farmers used DSL technology, which is old and slow compared to what most Americans can access. Twenty-six percent of farms used satellite, which has broad coverage but tends to be more expensive and not as technically advanced. And three percent (more than 40,000 farms) still use dial-up, which was the go-to internet technology of the early 1990s.

So, it’s not just any old broadband that agriculture needs – it’s high-performance broadband.

Duluth appreciates economic boon to rural broadband

The Duluth News Tribune reports…

There was much fanfare in late January when Gov. Tim Walz rolled out $23 million in rural broad grants.

But what does that mean for businesses?

Access to high speed internet is paramount for rural small businesses, Business News Daily reports. Quicker internet may speed up production for some businesses.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses points out another factor that comes with increasing rural broadband: businesses’ investment in new cities.

Larger companies may select to invest in towns with higher internet speeds as it impacts their ability to translate large amounts of data, according to the NFIB.

Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford on rural broadband

Yahoo Finance reports on Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford conversation with  journalist Jessica Yellin at the 2020 Upfront Summit…

This week, the Federal Communications Commission approved a $20.4 billion program that could give six million rural homes and businesses access to high-speed broadband. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai calls the initiative the “boldest step yet to bridge this [digital] divide,” but the CEO of one of the largest dairy cooperatives said it’s simply not enough.

“It’s not that that’s nothing. I mean, that’s real money. But it’s inadequate. And then I meet constantly with governors, and they’re putting something- 10 million in the budget or 20 million… And it feels like we’re in the couch looking for the quarters and nickels. And that’s not going to get us there. It is going to make us uncompetitive as a nation. We cannot just leave these communities behind,” Land O’Lakes chief executive Beth Ford said in an interview Thursday at the Upfront Summit in Pasadena, California.

EVENT: Igniting Our Regional Entrepreneurs Feb 20 in Red Wing MN

An invitation from Red Wing Ignite

Don’t miss out on what’s going on in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in our region.
At this event, we will discuss the entrepreneurial resources through education, collaboration, market research, business competitions, coaching and mentoring. This is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to learn about the exciting things happening in the next few years to jump-start businesses.
You’ll learn more about how we are igniting the regional entrepreneurial resources through education, collaboration, market research, business competitions, coaching, mentoring, and co-working spaces. This is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to help your community because we are stronger together in our regional efforts.
You will leave this event with new contacts, collaboration tools, knowledge about resources and a greater understanding of investors and funding.

Thursday, February 20, 2020
5:00 PM
 to 8:30 PM

Red Wing Ignite
419 Bush St
Red Wing MN

Gov Walz visits MN Broadband Grant recipient in Melrose (Stearns County)

St Cloud Times reports on Governor Walz’s visit to Melrose to talk with local businesses about the recently announced broadband grant…

Farm Systems might move away from Melrose if it wasn’t for forthcoming improvements to broadband there, said Farm Systems Associated Vice President Ken Schneider to Gov. Tim Walz on Monday.

Walz came to the Melrose office of internet provider Arvig to highlight the state’s broadband development grant program.

Arvig won a nearly $400,000 grant for the Melrose area project. It will upgrade service at the Melrose industrial park near Interstate Highway 94 and 400-plus locations in the Rice Lake and Brown Lake areas.

Here are some of the economic benefits…

Farm Systems provides equipment for dairies, including robots, said Eric Maynard, senior sales and marketing manager with the company.

The business has 60 robots going in this year, Maynard said. And the company does much of its troubleshooting remotely via broadband.

Chuck Barth, co-owner of Warrior Boats, told the governor Monday that the company held off on expansion because of a lack of broadband. Right now Warrior Boats has to contract out for its social media work.

“This will help us manage our website, our Facebook page, our ads,” Barth said about the planned improvements to broadband in Melrose.

Arvig’s infrastructure will exceed the state’s speed goals for broadband with 1 gigabit per second for downloads and uploads.