There was a time when high-speed internet was a luxury, but that time has long passed. Broadband is essential for doing business today and having access to the latest resources and information. Yet much of rural America still has no access to do business at the speeds of the rest of the country. Thirty-nine percent of rural households are without a high-speed connection, compared to 4 percent of urban households. That’s unacceptable for modern farmers and their rural communities.
The 21st century is an exciting time for American agriculture. We have tools at our fingertips that our parents and grandparents never dreamed of. Thanks to precision ag tools, farming is more sustainable because we can focus and conserve our resources better than ever. But those tools require broadband to truly be efficient and effective. The latest farming techniques and tools allow farmers to analyze data to make careful decisions from the number of seeds they plant to the amount of water and nutrients they apply to their crops. Farmers can now make those decisions down to the square inch, but that requires getting a signal out to their tractors in the field. For a farmer struggling to get by in today’s down economy, conserving their inputs and resources might make all the difference for being in business one season to the next.
Lack of rural broadband doesn’t just put rural America behind here at home. It also can make us lose our competitive edge abroad. U.S. agriculture is part of a global marketplace today. Farmers and ranchers need to connect with customers around the world and stay up-to-date on the latest market developments. Without high-speed connectivity, it’s far too easy for farms and ranches to lose out on customers and business, and the whole ag economy suffers.
It’s time to bridge the rural digital divide. Farm Bureau has been calling for action here, and we are encouraged to see the Administration working to close the gap. President Trump pledged action to Farm Bureau members at the start of the year at AFBF’s Annual Convention in Nashville, where he signed an Executive Order to expedite broadband deployment on federal lands. Since then, Congress has provided $600 million in funding for USDA’s new e-Connectivity Pilot Program under the Rural Utilities Service. Additionally, the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill include the AFBF supported “Precision Agriculture Connectivity” provision that creates a task force to focus on the broadband connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture.
We are encouraged to see this critical issue become a priority this year for the Administration and Congress, and Farm Bureau continues to advocate for the needs of farm and ranch businesses to bring us all into the next century of agriculture.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. You can follow him on Twitter @ZippyDuvall.