Even food needs better broadband – well farmers need to growing food efficiently and sustainably

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has just released an important look at The Future of American Farming Demands Broadband. They start by making the case that farmers need broadband is to be more efficient and the environment needs it to support sustainability. I suspect most readers here understand (or live) that, so I’ll cut to some of the answers they provide based on various facets of farming…

The Farm Office
How do we ensure that farmers get reliable, symmetrical broadband service?

● Establish future-proof performance standards: To meet the growing demand among farmers for both upstream and downstream speeds, networks must be capable of 100/100 Mbps service.

● Clarify rules around easements and rights of way: State governments can address legal uncertainty around easements and rights of way, which can slow deployment and increase costs, particularly for electric cooperatives.

Incentivize build-out to the operations center: Broadband funding programs can reward applicants that deploy broadband to the operations center of the farm and other critical farm buildings.

● Support open-access, middle-mile networks: Middle-mile deployment can pack a powerful punch by bringing scalable, fiber-based connections deep into rural communities while also lowering the cost of last-mile deployment for private providers.

The Field
How can we address the special connectivity demands of farms?
● Adopt high-performance standards: Performance standards for upload speeds and latency should reflect the changing needs of farmers for precision agriculture.
● Encourage deep fiber build-out: Fiber build-out in rural America, even if not directly to the farm, will be needed to support capable wireless connections for higher-bandwidth applications in the field.
● Address gaps in mapping on farmland: Broadband maps should include mobile coverage on agricultural lands. The underlying data that informs these maps must be available to the public.
● Advocate for interoperability and privacy standards: Without better coordination about interoperability and privacy standards, farmers may be less willing to adopt precision agriculture technologies.
● Adjust spectrum award mechanisms to reward farmland coverage: Spectrum auctions can adopt geographic coverage requirements in some rural agricultural areas to encourage deployment on farmland.

The Community
How do we connect the communities that farms rely upon?
● Adopt comprehensive state broadband plans: State plans that encompass all aspects of a broadband strategy—including deployment, competition, and digital equity—are best suited to meeting states’ regional economic development and other goals.
● Support digital equity programs at the state and local levels: Digital equity programs led by state and local governments and backed by federal funding can work with communities to help people make full use of broadband connections.
● Encourage local planning and capacity building: Federal and state funding can encourage local planning and capacity building, which may include developing local or regional broadband strategies and applying for federal broadband grants.
● Implement accountability measures: Federal funding programs for broadband deployment that include strong accountability measures ensure that providers hit their deployment goals.
● Encourage local, community-oriented providers: Federal programs that support broadband can encourage entry from more broadband providers, including cooperative and community[1]based solutions.
● Facilitate federal, tribal, state, and local coordination: All levels of government should work together as partners to create opportunities for collaboration.
● Coordinate efforts of federal agencies: A coordinated effort between federal agencies will allow those agencies to synergize their respective expertise and meet the distinct needs of farmers.

I appreciate the collection of statistics and the frontline stories that give a clear picture of what life is like for farmers in rural America. Each town, farm and person’s perspective may be different based on where they are, what they are doing and even season or time of day but it’s very likely that whatever they are experiencing is different that what folks in urban areas experience. Through examples, theygive some quick lessons on fixed-wireless (pg 9), middle mile (pg 11), cooperatives (pg 12), Starlink (pg 14) and more.

They even give a nice nod to what’s happening in Minnesota and Blandin’s role in the success…

Public and private leadership working in tandem in Minnesota
One of the earliest state grant programs, Minnesota’s Border-to[1]Border Broadband Development Grant Program, was created in 2014 to assist localities, private providers, nonprofits, and cooperatives in building out broadband infrastructure in Greater Minnesota. The program funds up to 50 percent of the cost of a last-mile or middle[1]mile broadband project, including planning, permitting, construction, and installation costs. Since its inception, Border-to-Border has connected more than 56,000 homes, businesses, and anchor institutions to broadband. The eventual goal of the program is universal, “border-to[1]border” broadband coverage across Minnesota. The state plans to achieve universal 25/3 Mbps coverage by the end of 2022 and universal 100/20 Mbps coverage by the end of 2026.

Working in tandem with state broadband efforts, the Blandin Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to building healthy, inclusive rural communities in Minnesota, has partnered with dozens of rural communities to help them get and use better broadband. Participating communities work through a proven process to define their technology goals and measure current levels of broadband access and use. They receive technical assistance and grant funding to implement projects that help close the digital divide and take advantage of the extraordinary benefits of a broadband-enabled economy.

Communities that have participated in the Blandin Broadband Communities program have earned themselves a seat at the table of broadband planning. Having done the work of assessing what they have, what they want, and what they are willing to contribute to a possible project, they have a voice in what broadband solution is “good enough” for their communities.

Nearly half of the network feasibility studies commissioned by Blandin community partners and funded by the foundation have been either fully or partially built. Participating communities have dramatically increased the presence of free, publicly available internet access in libraries, public parks, downtown areas, and township halls, and have distributed more than 2,300 refurbished computers to income[1]qualifying residents in participating rural communities across Minnesota. Communities also have implemented a variety of digital literacy programs for local residents and businesses. They have spurred more sophisticated use of technology through education, training, community events, learning circles, and innovative partnerships—a total of 292 projects that address community technology goals.
Local governments and other entities across the state have endorsed and adopted Minnesota’s Broadband Vision, first articulated at a 2015 Blandin Broadband conference: “Everyone in Minnesota will be able to use convenient, affordable, world-class broadband networks that enable us to survive and thrive in our communities and across the globe.” This vision inspired the creation of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, which unites dozens of broadband champions from across the state to sustain broad, bipartisan support for Minnesota’s broadband grant program.
Blandin’s work in Minnesota illustrates the benefits of public and private leadership working in tandem. Investing in the capacity of communities to name and claim their own broadband vision helps to maximize public benefit from public investments such as state grant programs.

Land O’Lakes say farming is going digital – but need broadband

Venture Beat reports on a presentation that CTO Land O’Lakes Teddy Bekele gave at a conference this week…

“The life of the farmer is very complicated,” Bekele said in his conference presentation. The modern farmer operates in a business ecosystem that includes equipment manufacturers, chemical companies, food distributors, banks and insurance companies, employees, and government regulations.

The success of a farming business, he said, revolves around 40 “mega decisions” about what and when to plant, when and how to fertilize, feed, and harvest, and how to market and sell. These are all problems data and technology can help solve, Bekele said.

The costs of technology and technology upgrades can be an issue, but so is broadband…

One fundamental challenge is that even where solutions exist and farmers are eager to take advantage of them, the lack of broadband connectivity in rural areas gets in the way of tapping into the cloud. Bandwidth is often mediocre in the farmhouse and poor-to-nonexistent at the farm or out in the field, Bekele said. One promising solution Land O’Lakes has been pursuing in cooperation with internet providers is working with the cooperative’s network of agricultural retailers in farming communities to erect more towers for cellular bandwidth.

Word from Farmfest: “Broadband is crucial”

KEYC News reports on the first day of Farmfest…

Panelists also expressed the importance of broadband infrastructure, something Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D – Minnesota), who is participating in Farmfest virtually this year, is working for in the federal infrastructure package.

“It’s $65 billion and the money is to be used to get higher speed Internet and then to areas that have no Internet at all,” she said.

Broadband infrastructure is something farmers, like Perry Oftedahl, say is crucial.

“We need it out there in rural Minnesota. Farming has gotten to be so much precision agriculture, so there’s a lot of need for the iPads and cellphones the guidance systems are on. We need better connections out here,” he said.

US Rep Fischbach puts broadband on top of list for Ag Committee priorities

Alexandria Echo Press reports…

In 2020, Republican Rep. Michelle Fischbach beat Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, then the committee chairman. She served many years in the Minnesota Senate before that.

She emailed a list of her priorities on the ag committee, starting off with broadband…

Ensure adequate access to broadband internet. “More than one in five farms in Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District currently lack access to high-speed internet,” the email said. It added that broadband access is important for agriculture as well as for remote schooling and telehealth.

Precision Ag, not just for early adopters anymore – as heard on Community Networks podcast

I find precision ag intriguing. I love getting tours. (Hint, hint.) I think it’s amazing how math can help harness nature. So I was delighted to see that Chris Mitchell spoke with Julie Bushell, President of Paige Wireless and Co-chair of Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force on the Community Networks podcast.

One thing that struck me was when Julie was talking about livestream video drone footage, she noted that drone footage is not bleeding edge, it’s standard. It’s standard for those who have access anyway. In an industry where money is made by pennies in pounds, any slight advantage or disadvantage makes a world of difference.

They talk about farming but also about the impact of having better broadband in a community. It helps start businesses. It keeps kids in town for another generation.

Julie notes that for funding we’ve always looked at only home and business. There may be just one home in a 1,000 acre home but that may include a lot of devices. We need to consider the Internet of Things, the internet of precision ag when we’re looking at federal funding.

Also need someone working on connectivity from the device side – we need standards that make it easy to connect no matter what the mode.

Minnesota Farm Bureau makes broadband a priority – hear from the fields

Brownfield Ag News for America reports

Broadband access remains insufficient for many in rural America.

And northern Minnesota cow/calf rancher Miles Kuschel tells Brownfield the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the issue.

“If it’s given us an insight into one thing, it’s the absolute need for high-speed broadband across all of Rural America. Whether it’s distance learning, telemedicine, Zoom conferences or annual meetings.”

Kuschel is a district director for Minnesota Farm Bureau and says at the state and national level, Farm Bureau has made rural broadband a priority.

“Definitely a big help because the legislators are hearing it loud and clear, and (they) are also experiencing the frustrations when it comes to rural broadband. Especially when you have a remote legislative session like they’re participating in right now.”

American Farm Bureau supports using the Universal Service Fund as well as a combination of tax incentives and grants to expand broadband deployment to rural areas.

EVENT Feb 3: Public Good App House: Apps that Address Food Insecurity

I thought this event might be of interest to readers. Even if you can’t attend the online event, TechSoup shares a nice list of resources to research in your own time…

Food insecurity affects about a quarter of the world’s population and more than 80 percent of US food banks are serving more people now than they did a year ago.

How can we apply technology towards these challenges? Join our next Public Good App House demo event and discover four apps that address food insecurity.

DEMOS

ShareTheMeal

United Nations World Food Programme

ShareTheMeal is the mobile fundraising app from the United Nations World Food Programme. The app allows users to ‘share their meal’ with a hungry child with just a tap and $0.80, feeding 1 child for a day.

Flashfood

Reduce food waste and feed people affordably using Flashfood. Users get massive savings on fresh food items like meat and produce that are nearing their best before date at grocery stores across Canada and the U.S.

MealConnect 2.0

Feeding America

Since 2014, MealConnect has been facilitating local food donations for community hunger relief organizations. In just a few months, Feeding America will launch functions allowing produce growers to donate crops anywhere in the country and enable Feeding America food banks to more easily share bounty with their lower-resourced peer food banks.

GetCalFresh

Code for America

Code for America built GetCalFresh to be the most human-centered, mobile-friendly, and efficient way to apply for the SNAP (also known as “food stamps”) program. Code for America will share lessons learned while building the app, and what’s coming next for helping Californians get the money for food that they’re entitled to.

Making a short list for the Farm Bill? Remember broadband.

The Marshall Independent is reporting from Farmfest on conversations happening on the Farm Bill. He’s a very abbreviated broadband take what they are talking about…

Dozens of farmers, ranchers and organizational leaders voiced their opinion on what should be in the next Farm Bill to U.S. House Agricultural Committee members, drawing a big crowd to the Farmfest Forum building for 2-and-1/2 hours Thursday. …

[Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary] Wertish said broadband expansion to rural areas, high healthcare costs are huge issues. …

Minnesota Association of Townships Executive Director Gary Pedersen said rural broadband expansion should be considered a “have to be” and a utility.

It’s a really interesting list  of “must haves” – worth a read. I was glad and not surprised to see broadband mentioned.