Perspective: Broadband Internet In Rural America

A few years ago I had the chance to chat with Craig Venter. At that time he was the director of the Celera Genomics doing breakthrough work in DNA sequencing. We were discussing leadership and motivation and I accused him of having it easy because all he had to do was point out to people his noble cause — mapping the human DNA.
 
Over the years I have had a great time bringing technology solutions to business problems in agriculture, but they were hardly noble. Certainly the people I’ve worked with and the projects we brought to life were vital and fun, but the noble cause remained elusive — until now.
 
Since accepting a role with the Broadband Alliance for Agriculture, I have been a part of an organization with a noble goal — affordable broadband connectivity to rural America. We seek to achieve this through awareness, education and research programs. Unfortunately, most growers are stuck on 1995 speeds. For those of you on high-speed connections, try to remember what it was like to have dropped calls, slow screens, busy signals and sluggish email. It’s no wonder that people on dial up spend 95% less time on-line than those with a high-speed connection.
 
Based upon data in the August 2007 USDA report on Farm Computer Usage and Ownership, 28% of our 2,000,000 U.S. farms have a high-speed Internet connection. You may be tempted to think that the folks in the city have it much better. Well they do, but it’s the people in the city of another country. A few years ago the U.S. was 12th in the percentage of its population using broadband. With quick stop at 15th, the U.S. is now sitting in 25th place.
 
So we’ve got a problem — but won’t the 2007 Farm Bill go a long way towards solving it? The 2007 Farm Bill will most likely have significant funding available in the form of loans to private entrepreneurs who want to venture into rural areas. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has been nothing short of heroic in addressing these issues. As an optimist, my hopes are high, but I suspect even if it exceeds the mandatory funding of the 2002 Farm bill – $100 million — it will fall far short of having any meaningful impact. Some of this is due to the amount of the funding and some is the lack of an overall architecture. It’s like giving a million people each a brick and telling them to go build a house.
 
According to an article in the Broadband Bulletin, $2.157 billion in financing funds were made available in FY 2005 to rural service providers through the broadband program of the Rural Development Office. As of December of that year, applications amounting to $825 million were approved. The rest was left unspent. I have heard that the loan approval process required substantial legal and financial resources to create the 1,000 pages of documentation required. So even if there is adequate funding, and an infrastructure architecture suddenly appears, the USDA needs to smooth out the application process.
 
Now let’s turn to internet usage on the farm. We have data from the Pew report that shows that 60% of rural adults use the internet from any location. The USDA report says that 55% of U.S. farms have internet access. The percentage of U.S. farms using the internet goes up to 66% if you exclude all farms with Gross Farm Incomes less than $250,000. As Yogi Berra would say, “If people are going to stay away, how can you stop them.” But the fact remains that between one-third and one-half of the 2,000,000 American farms are not on the internet and not using email.
 
As a technology person, I quickly embraced the internet as a resource. If I needed a manual, I looked on the internet. If I needed a patch to a program, I looked on the internet. If I needed to find out how to do something with hardware, I looked on the internet. The internet had the “stuff” I needed.
 
As an industry we’ve done a good job providing elevator prices, weather, crop history, and more USDA statistical reports than anyone has time to read. The Ag internet for the most part, pushes information at the farmer. We expect him to download all of our PDFs, label information, guides and charts and absorb them like he did 20 years ago. We’re just using the internet instead of the post office.
 
I invite you to ask yourself the question “Can my customer get any information from the internet that he can’t get from the mail?” If the answer is “no,” then we’ve failed to prepare. The next wave is video, peer to peer, collaboration, customization, modeling, and expert web applications. We will be “smartening” the supply chain and sending the farmer intelligence about his operation. In return we will get information about his operation that will allow us as an industry to plan and forecast. When this happens, the farmer will be clamoring for a high-speed connection because the reason to log on is there.
 
This will be a journey full of ups and downs, but it will be a fun one. And it certainly qualifies as a noble cause — join us won’t you?
 
Robert Paarlberg is the Executive Director of The Broadband Alliance for Agriculture. Learn more by visiting http://www.broadbandalliance.org

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Trends Stories
Wheat
BusinessOPINION: What if Grain Bin Walls Could Monitor Moisture?
October 24, 2016
*GUEST COLUMNIST’S NOTE: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. Read More
BusinessPrassack Advisors Drafts Weather Data Report
October 4, 2016
Agriculture technology solutions are rapidly evolving from basic data management tools to true decision support systems. Granular weather data is Read More
Business2016 Farm Science Review: Talkin’ New Products, Education and Big Data
September 21, 2016
The Ohio State University’s Farm Science Review has become an annual rite of fall for Buckeye State growers, retailers and Read More
BusinessGMO Aphids to Battle Weeds? It’s Not as Far Fetched as You Think…
September 21, 2016
No, I am not talking about optimizing aphids for a global agricultural armageddon. That would be silly. I’m talking about Read More
Trending Articles
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To Enhance VRT Programs
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secrets
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Farmers
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
BusinessTrimble Launches New FMIS Platform
November 7, 2016
Trimble announced today that it is consolidating three of its agriculture software products — Connected Farm, Farm Works Software and Read More
Latest News
AgBot16 Challenge
Hort TechUSDA Announces $3 Million For Agricultural Robotics Res…
December 8, 2016
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced the availability of $3 million in available funding for Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
Business ManagementPrecision Farming Forecast: 4 Challenges, Opportunities…
December 7, 2016
Opportunities and challenges. They are the yin and yang of the business world. It could easily be argued that, out Read More
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Buhler Versatile HQ cab
BusinessThe State Of Precision Ag In 2016
December 7, 2016
There’s no denying that precision technologies and practices are more vibrant than ever. Elsewhere on this site, you will find Read More
BusinessFarmobile Details New AGCO Distribution Deal
December 6, 2016
Farmobile today announced a strategic partnership with AGCO, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment. The agreement will allow Read More
Hort TechSol Chip Launches Autonomous, Wireless Solar Tag for Sm…
December 6, 2016
Sol Chip, a provider of Internet of Things (IoT) systems and energy harvesting solutions, today announced the introduction of its Read More
TechnologyAgGateway Announces 2017 Board Of Directors And Leaders…
December 2, 2016
AgGateway has announced its leadership for the coming year, including the directors of its new Strategic Board and Operational Board, Read More
DataSentera Honored With Startup Award Of 2016 By Minnesota…
December 1, 2016
The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) recently recognized Sentera as the 2016 Tekne Startup Award recipient. The MHTA Tekne Awards Read More
AGCO AgControl
TechnologyPrecision Ag Technology: Rate Control For The Times
December 1, 2016
It’s not surprising that the need for more economical, effective application is driving the demand for the latest rate controllers Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To En…
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Fall corn
BusinessInsecticide of the Future? Robotic Tanks With Lasers to…
November 22, 2016
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
Sensors/IoTIoT The Focus Of New Topcon Partnership
November 22, 2016
Topcon Agriculture and SDF plan to enter into a non-exclusive long-term partnership agreement. This latest arrangement of Topcon with a Read More
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secr…
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
BusinessFarmobile Releases Mobile Data Visualization Dashboard
November 17, 2016
Farmobile today announced an EFR Dashboard, a real-time dashboard that helps farmers visualize their field data and derive insights to Read More
Southern States
Best PracticesSouthern States: 5 Tips for Variable-Rate Seeding Succe…
November 15, 2016
Success comes from taking advantage of every opportunity you can. One technique used in precision farming, called variable rate seeding, Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Far…
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
THRIVE
BusinessCall For Ag Tech Startups: Apply To THRIVE’s Open…
November 10, 2016
THRIVE is looking for high growth ag tech companies with an in-market solution that are positioned to scale. The top 50 Read More