A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee last week approved Farm Bureau-supported legislation that will help close rural America’s digital divide by creating a task force to focus on the needs of precision agriculture.
The Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018 (H.R. 4881) would create a task force to bring together public and private stakeholders to evaluate current programs affecting broadband internet access on cropland and ranchland; identify and measure existing gaps in coverage; and develop policy recommendations to address that gap. The task force is also responsible for developing specific steps the Federal Communications Commission, USDA and other federal agencies can take to address gaps in coverage.
Many of the latest yield-maximizing and environmentally friendly farming and ranching techniques require broadband connections for data collection and analysis performed both on the farm and in remote data centers, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall noted in a letter urging committee members to support the bill.
“Today’s farmers and ranchers are using precision agricultural techniques to make decisions that impact the amount of fertilizer they need to purchase and apply to the field, the amount of water needed to sustain the crop, and the amount and type of herbicides or pesticides they may need to apply,” Duvall wrote.
While FCC data shows that 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to minimum broadband speed service (25 Mbps/3 Mbps), compared to only 4 percent of urban Americans, there is no information about connectivity on cropland and rangeland.
“Bringing together the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the FCC and public and private stakeholders to address the needs of precision agriculture ensures current and future generations of farmers and ranchers will have the technology needed to maintain our food security and manage resources efficiently,” Duvall said in the letter.
The Senate Commerce Committee passed its Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act earlier this year.