Benton Report Farmer on Tablet

Farms need broadband – and not just to the farmer’s home, but more broadly to fields and outbuildings, according to a new report from Benton Institute for Broadband & Society sponsored by United Soybean Board. The report includes a wide range of data points to back up this assertion and offers several recommendations for how to get broadband where it is needed.

The farm office, located in the home or another building, is the operation center of the farm and many of the tasks completed therefore require substantially greater upload speeds than a typical residence, the report, titled “The Future of American Farming: Broadband Solutions for the Farm Office, Field and Community,” notes.

“By nature, precision agriculture produces large amounts of data, including shape files and drone or satellite imagery,” the author wrote.

Accordingly, the report recommends symmetrical broadband speeds of at least 100 Mbps per farm.

Despite the importance of the farm office, though, the farmer often is elsewhere.

The Benton report quotes one farmer who notes that farmers are “not in an office, sitting on a computer all day. They have to have the information on their phones, and they have to have it now.”

That means farms need good wireless coverage throughout their acreage. Ubiquitous wireless coverage also is needed to support smart agriculture.

The report cites the example of yield monitors, devices mounted on combines which, as the report explains, can measure the amount and location of material moving through the machine. That information is used to create yield maps, which are then downloaded to John Deere operations centers and subsequently uploaded to the planter in the spring to optimize seed placement, yielding a 10% savings on seed placement costs.

Connected sensors also can help make operations more efficient by measuring soil moisture to improve irrigation systems and reduce water consumption. Weather sensors can predict frost and storm patterns. And biosensors can track cows’ ovulation cycles to boost pregnancy rates.

Results from a 2019 USDA farm broadband survey included in the report suggest that most farms lack the 100 Mbps symmetrical service recommended to support applications such as these, however.

According to USDA, only 16% of farms had cable broadband and only 12% had fiber broadband – the two technologies capable of providing 100 Mbps symmetrical service. Many more relied on slower DSL, satellite, cellular, and dialup connectivity.

Source: Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Broadband Farm Report Recommendations

The Benton report makes a range of policy recommendations for how to improve broadband connectivity for farms, including:

  • Support open-access middle-mile networks that bring fiber to rural communities
  • Encourage deep fiber build-out
  • Incentivize network operators that deploy broadband to farms’ operation centers
  • Address gaps in mapping on farmland
  • Adjust spectrum award mechanisms to reward farmland coverage
  • Adopt comprehensive state broadband plans
  • Support digital equity programs at the state and local levels
  • Encourage local planning and capacity building
  • Implement accountability measures
  • Encourage local, community-oriented providers
  • Facilitate federal, tribal, state and local coordination
  • Coordinate efforts of federal agencies

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