Getting Rural America Online
Monday, August 17, 2015 - 8:13pm
You can’t tell the story of American agriculture without looking at how farmers and ranchers have pioneered the use of cutting-edge tools on their land. Innovation and farming go hand in hand. And we’ve come a long way from the first gas-powered tractors a century ago to the state-of-the-art, self-steering models available today. Farmers and ranchers are quick to embrace the best tools to get their work done — and to get it done well. Thanks to advanced farm equipment, better seeds and smarter digital tools, we are growing more while reducing our environmental impact.
By 2050, we’ll have 9 billion mouths to feed. That’s no small task, and we can’t get the job done without important advances in technology. Farmers today can analyze weather data, manage nutrient application, map their crop yields and adjust planting for the next season with modern precision agriculture tools. Soon, we will be sending out drones to monitor fields with more speed and accuracy than generations before could have dreamed of. We’ll be able to zero in on fields and crops down to the individual plant. We will spot diseases and pests almost the moment they appear, and target our water, pesticide and fertilizer applications to use the right amount at just the right time. This kind of precision is good for our businesses and our land. All we need is for the Federal Aviation Administration to act, and the sooner, the better.
Farmers and ranchers are eager to unlock the full potential of these new technologies, but across rural America many are still without the broadband service needed to make many of them practical. The Agriculture Department estimates just 67 percent of farmhouses had access to the Internet in 2013, which left one-third of America’s farm and ranch businesses offline. The Internet shouldn’t be a luxury. Farmers and ranchers rely on broadband access to connect with customers, access new markets and comply with new regulations. Rural broadband access is also critical to the communities surrounding our farmland: Online healthcare, education and government services can deliver opportunities and services rural Americans wouldn’t otherwise have at their doorstep. However, with no affordable broadband, rural communities are isolated from these services and growth opportunities.
Our communities and our economy are stronger when we have the tools we need to work together and prosper. We’re excited to see the Federal Communications Commission transition to the Connect America Program, which focuses attention on the need for broadband services in rural areas. We need all communications providers to be covered — not just telephone providers — to open the door to all Americans in rural communities. And there’s much more that can be done. Farm Bureau supports tax incentives, grants and regulations for communications carriers so they can open up new markets that would otherwise prove unprofitable.
Washington hears the outcry for high-speed Internet, but the solution is coming through slower than dial-up. Our rural communities shouldn’t have to wait any longer for the connections that broadband will give them.