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

Business Management Stories
Deere R4023 cab
Business ManagementOpinion: Reality vs. Hype in Precision Agriculture
July 6, 2017
I think there is a certain word that can accurately describe much of the precision ag and/or ag tech industry right Read More
Alabama bottomland
Business ManagementGreenPoint AG: Dealing in Ag Tech Down on the Delta
June 5, 2017
Precision-farming veteran Ben Carlisle is the Agricultural Technology Manager for GreenPoint AG, LLC, a retailer with locations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Read More
GPS, Guidance
Business ManagementPromoting Precision Agricultural Innovation in a Risk Averse Marketplace
April 24, 2017
As precision agriculture consultants we constantly are being asked our opinions on where to invest, and how to strategically invest Read More
Business ManagementBionic Leaves: Future Source of Endless Fertilizer?
April 21, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Trending Articles
Resistant-weeds-in-Brazil
InternationalUsing Precision Agriculture to Control Herbicide-Resistant Weeds in Brazil
July 24, 2017
The occurrence of weeds in agricultural fields of grain and fiber production has caused losses to farmers for a long Read More
Yield Data Image
Data ManagementYield Data: More Than a Pretty Picture
July 13, 2017
It is mid-July, which, for the Australian cotton industry, means that picking is still going on for some growers. A Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
ProfessionalsPatience Needed: Lessons for Getting New Tech onto the Farm
July 6, 2017
A popular joke within the tech industry was trotted out at GAI AgTech Week in Boston, MA, speaking volumes about Read More
PrecisionAg Vision Conference
EventsPrecisionAg® Vision Conference: Focused on the Future
June 13, 2017
PrecisionAg® is pleased to announce the return of its PrecisionAg Vision Conference, October 10-12, 2017. Based on overwhelmingly positive response Read More
Gavin Newsom Forbes AgTech-Summit
ProfessionalsAgTech Summit Aiming High for Modern Farming Solutions
June 12, 2017
THRIVE AgTech, in partnership with SVG Partners and Forbes, is hosting the third annual Forbes AgTech Summit June 28-29 in Read More
Quantix Drone Farmer
DronesTop 10 Most Intriguing Technologies in Agriculture
June 3, 2017
This may be a bit of stating the obvious here, but we’ll throw it out there anyways: as much as Read More
Latest News
Senet Network
Sensors/IoTSenet, Sensoterra to Deliver Real-Time Soil Moisture Mo…
July 26, 2017
Senet, a provider of global connectivity and network management for the Internet of Things, and Sensoterra BV, a provider of Read More
AGCO White planter 9800VE
Systems ManagementAGCO to Acquire Precision Planting
July 26, 2017
AGCO and The Climate Corp. announced today that a definitive agreement has been signed for AGCO to acquire the Precision Read More
CNH-and-Trimble-Data-Sharing_1
Data ManagementTrimble, CNH Collaborate on Data Sharing Connectivity
July 26, 2017
Trimble and CNH Industrial, a global leader in agricultural equipment, have announced they are enabling wireless connectivity between Trimble Ag Read More
Imagery/SensingEFC Systems Announces Imagery Delivery Integration with…
July 25, 2017
EFC Systems, Inc. has announced a new integration between its FieldAlytics product and Geosys Bridge API for direct delivery of Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementProspera Raises $15 Million to Transform Farms with Dat…
July 25, 2017
Digital farming company Prospera has announced a $15 million Series B funding round. Qualcomm Ventures, the investment arm of Qualcomm Read More
Resistant-weeds-in-Brazil
InternationalUsing Precision Agriculture to Control Herbicide-Resist…
July 24, 2017
The occurrence of weeds in agricultural fields of grain and fiber production has caused losses to farmers for a long Read More
John-Deere-and-Farm-Dog
Grower Services & SolutionsFarm Dog Strengthens its Integration with John Deere Op…
July 24, 2017
Farm Dog, the leading pest and disease management platform for growers and agronomists, has completed the second stage of its Read More
Industry NewsLindsay Corp. Names Dow’s Timothy Hassinger New C…
July 19, 2017
Lindsay Corp. has  announced the appointment of Timothy Hassinger as president and CEO and a member of its board of Read More
InfoAg 2015
Events2017 Awards of Excellence Winners Announced
July 18, 2017
PrecisionAg Institute is pleased to announce its Awards of Excellence winners for 2017. Honorees of this year’s prestigious award are Read More
Interseeding Cover Crops
ProfessionalsA 3-Step Approach to Interseeding Cover Crops
July 18, 2017
As growers continue to search for opportunities to create healthier soils and increase yields, more trusted advisors and farmers are Read More
Rod Weimer and Paul Schrimpf
Excellence AwardsPast Recipients Of The PrecisionAg Awards Of Excellence
July 18, 2017
Since 2007, the PrecisionAg Insititute has sponsored the annual Awards of Excellence program. Here's a list of the past winners. Read More
Data ManagementEFC Announces FieldAlytics, Adapt-N Expanded Integratio…
July 17, 2017
EFC Systems is pleased to announce an expanded integration between its FieldAlytics product and Agronomic Technology Corp’s Adapt-N nitrogen recommendations Read More
Data ManagementOpinion: Benchmarking in Precision Agriculture is Big S…
July 17, 2017
Benchmarking has become a buzzword in precision agriculture recently and before we get too excited with all of the profound Read More
Yield Data Image
Data ManagementYield Data: More Than a Pretty Picture
July 13, 2017
It is mid-July, which, for the Australian cotton industry, means that picking is still going on for some growers. A Read More
Industry NewsQuick Rewind: Ohio Dealer Talks Deere-Precision Plantin…
July 12, 2017
A few weeks ago I took a quick trip south down I-71 to Central Ohio (for you non-Buckeyes, I-71 runs Read More
DronesSentera Launches Versatile Quad Sensor for Drones
July 12, 2017
Fully Customizable Filters on Sentera Quad Sensor Allow for Unique Crop Health Detection Capabilities Sentera introduces the latest update to Read More
Hortau Irrigation Management Software
Sensors/IoTHortau Named Finalist for CogX Artificial Intelligence …
July 10, 2017
Hortau was recently named a CogX Award finalist in the Best Artificial Intelligence Product in Agriculture category. The awards were Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsVantage South Atlantic Announces Mid-South Expansion
July 10, 2017
Vantage South Atlantic announced that it has joined Trimble Agriculture’s global network of independent Vantage partners to provide farmers, advisors, Read More