The future of American farms is data-driven.

An unquestionable digital divide exists between urban and rural communities. As our society moves towards increasing reliance on wireless technology, the connectivity gap has only grown in prominence.

While 98 percent of Americans in urban areas have stable broadband internet access, that number drops to 69 percent for those in rural communities. In fact, a Pew Research study published in 2019 found that rural Americans are 12 percent less likely to have stable broadband connection than their urban counterparts and 16 percent less likely than those who live in suburban America.

Many rural Americans rely on smartphones to stay digitally connected, which poses a challenge for rural farms that use precision ag technology. Mobile broadband connection lacks the speed needed for modern farming operations to collect farm data accurately and efficiently. Therefore, the expansion of widespread broadband internet access in rural communities is a critical component to optimize crop yields for an increasing worldwide population.

The Growing Importance of Broadband Internet in Rural Farm Communities 

An estimated 25 percent of U.S. farms lacked internet access as of 2019. Of those with internet access, only 32 percent consider broadband internet connection on their operations reliable and 78 percent said they have no option of changing service providers.

Although it has been a relevant topic within rural communities for years, COVID-19 has further emphasized the importance of broadband connectivity as a necessity rather than a luxury. Advantages of complete rural broadband connectivity for farmers include:

  • Better crop yields;
  • Lower input costs;
  • Reduced waste;
  • More automated systems; and
  • A reduction in the number of required farmworkers

In fact, the adoption of precision ag technology has led to a reported 11 percent average increase in yield for corn growers and a nine percent decrease of input expenses.  Adequate access to low-latency broadband internet networks will play a critical role in the enhancement of healthcare, education, and farm operations within rural America.

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Developments in 5G Connectivity for U.S. Agriculture

Rural broadband connectivity does not come without its own set of challenges to make it a reality for rural farm communities nationwide. While some are still working towards establishing LTE 4G connectivity within their communities, the recent emergence of the 5G network is presenting a new set of both opportunities and obstacles.

Although it has yet to take over its 4G precursor, 5G coverage is a promising development that could lead to more pervasive connectivity and faster speeds. Its large bandwidth and low-latency capabilities is an attractive solution to connect sensors and IoT networks within an agricultural operation but involves a high initial cost and a complicated implementation process.

The merger of Sprint and T-Mobile earlier this year signaled the first major shift towards widespread 5G connectivity. Full 5G integration is currently estimated at three years but means little to rural communities if the infrastructure is not in place to support its expansion. With each telecommunications tower built in rural America, the digital divide grows smaller as does the opportunity towards a more resilient future for American agriculture.

Shrinking the Digital Divide Gap

Whether it’s 5G or another form, rural broadband connectivity is an agricultural policy issue supported universally across political parties. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought recent attention to the issue of infrastructure and is a motivation factor towards a solution. Through the ReConnect Pilot Program and funding from the CARES Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has allocated millions of dollars to build wireless broadband infrastructure in rural areas nationwide. Through the continued development of this critical infrastructure within our rural communities, farmers and ranchers are more equipped to provide food, fiber, and fuel for our nation and the world.

“As we look to help our nation recover from this global pandemic, let’s make a smart investment in the future competitiveness of this country and ensure that all Americans, in both rural and urban areas, are able to access the internet.”

– American Connection Project Broadband Coalition

Going beyond the confinements of traditional lenders, AgAmerica takes ag finance a step further as an advocate for U.S. agriculture and a champion for all that the American Farmer represents. In an ever changing world, we stay committed to not only providing flexible financing that can adapt to each operation’s specific needs, but also equipping our nation’s farmers and ranchers with information that will support their financial success in the years to come.

Visit our online library of digital farm publications if you would like to learn more about precision agriculture technology and other important agricultural topics.