Broadband connectivity can support smart agriculture applications that can help farmers increase yields while also operating more efficiently, noted panelists in a session about SmartAg at the NTCA Smart Rural Community Live conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida this week.
With broadband, “our farmers are able to a lot more with less,” observed Emily Buckman, director of government affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation, in the session.
Agriculture is a big industry. U.S. farm income is projected to reach $136.9 billion in 2023, according to data shared by Joshua Seidemann, vice president of policy and innovation for NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, in the session.
Some people see SmartAg’s ability to boost agricultural output as critical to feeding a growing world population.
Seideman noted, for example that the demand for meat and animal products is expected to increase 70% by 2050. Meeting that demand could depend on technology to support animal health, to control feed and to keep tabs on behavior.
SmartAg also can help farmers maximize their yield per acre using technologies that enable farmers to fine tune fertilizer and irrigation. The yield for U.S. row crops reached 850 pounds per acre in 2022, an increase of two pounds from the previous year, Seideman said. That’s an achievement that undoubtedly was due, at least in part, to SmartAg.
Maximizing agricultural output also will depend on having plenty of farmers, and broadband can help there, too, by enhancing the quality of life for farmers and their families, Buckman and Seideman noted.
Buckman’s advice for broadband providers serving agricultural areas?
“Share your stories with your state broadband offices,” she said.
This is particularly important at a time when state broadband offices are making plans for awarding their states’ portion of the $42.5 billion in funding allotted for rural broadband in the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.
State broadband offices are in the process of creating the initial proposals that are required for the BEAD program, and as part of that process, they are required to obtain input from stakeholders in their state and to use that input in crafting a status report on broadband capabilities and needs in the state.
Seideman offered another idea for providers.
“I would encourage everyone in this room to create a working relationship with 4H and Future Farmers of America,” he said.
Young people interested in agriculture will be future customers for broadband technologies supporting SmartAg and now is the time to get to know them, he suggested.
Anna Collins contributed to this report