Bringing Rural Broadband to the Farm

What does having broadband coverage in the nation’s farm belt mean? Plenty according to both the US Department of Agriculture and those residents who have applied for rural broadband. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service and the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration are positioned to dole out a cool $7.2 billion to support projects to expand broadband, with $4.7 billion of it aimed at projects located in the nation’s heartland.

And folks are eager to receive it – over 2,200 applicants in all states, five territories, and D.C. requesting $28 billion, an amount seven times that of the funding available. That’s impressive since the applications often reached the 500-page variety. In the 2007 Ag Census, it was reported that 56% of US farms had internet connections of some kind. However, only 33% had high-speed, or broad band connections. Twenty states rank below the US average in high-speed internet use (or availability).

What this could mean for the agriculture business is direct connection, not to websites touting farm businesses, but to transportation, growers, warehouses, and the like. Consider that your combine can now be connected to the Internet. The advantage? Agribusiness owners and employees can access the Internet from the equipment, seeking instant feedback from a cell phone or PDA on equipment issues, property lines, market prices, forecasting the weather, monitoring commodity prices. In addition to receiving information, high-speed internet access is necessary for farmers to be able to share their story and products with the world – through blogs, websites, videos, and social networks like FarmSphere.com, etc.

GPS and RFID technology is only part of how farmers can utilize technology to improve business processes. From understanding shipment locations and fuel costs to tracking product destinations and delivery times, farmers can harness a bit more control over the entire agriculture process – from grower through end user. Exciting, but just how valuable broadband will be to the agribusiness will depend on the business itself. Could technology reduce costs and time to market? If so, how will that affect losses and insurance premiums?

Some believe broadband’s usefulness to the agribusiness is far from being realized, but the intent is to provide farmers with the tools to improve their business potential and allow them to expand technology benefits into the field. Literally. So what about you? Do you have high-speed internet access or will you benefit from the Rural Broadband program? How do you or how will you use the internet in your agribusiness activities? Post your comments and let us know.

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