The House earlier this week approved a Farm Bureau-supported measure that will help close rural America’s digital divide. 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 wrote in a June letter urging House Energy and Commerce 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.
The Senate version of PACA, passed by the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this year, was included in the Senate farm bill. A slightly different version was included in the House farm bill. AFBF supports the inclusion of PACA in the farm bill.