A sizable portion of America’s largest farmers “are unable to take advantage of many applications and services” on the internet because they don’t have a connection or it is of poor quality, said a Purdue University survey released on Tuesday. This access gap exists while precision agriculture technology is being adopted by the sector, such as GPS guidance for tractors and combine.
The monthly Ag Economy Barometer survey found that 12 percent of farmers had no internet access while 16% reported poor-quality connections. The survey is directed at the top tier of U.S. agriculture—farmers and ranchers with production worth at least $500,000 a year.
President Biden signed an infrastructure bill last autumn that included $65 Billion to improve internet services in rural areas, for low-income families, and for tribal communities. Most of the money will be distributed as grants to states. The White House has announced that the USDA will issue this year a funding opportunity notice for nearly $2B through its ReConnect program to deploy rural high-speed internet.
“Just three out of ten respondents said they had ‘high quality’ internet access followed by 41% who chose ‘moderate quality,’ wrote Purdue economists James Mintert and Michael Langemeier, who oversee the barometer.
“Twelve percent of respondents said they did not have internet access at all with another 16% choosing ‘poor quality,’ suggesting that nearly three out of 10 farms in the February survey are unable to take advantage of many applications and services which require reasonable quality internet access.”
Half of the farmers in the biggest corn, soybean and wheat states and a quarter of farmers nationwide have embraced precision agriculture, said a USDA report on farm computer usage last summer. “This would include the use of global positioning (GPS) guidance systems, GPS yield monitoring and soil mapping, variable rate input applications, use of drones for scouting fields or monitoring livestock, electronic tagging, precision feeding, robotic milking, etc.”
82% of the country’s farms had internet access by 2021, compared to 75% in 2019. Half of farms had an internet connection, while 70% had a cellular data plan. Two-thirds of farms had a laptop or desktop computer, and 77% had smartphones.
Rural adults are less likely than suburban adults to have broadband service at home and are less likely than urban adults to own a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer, said the Pew Research Center last August. Since 2016, the digital divide between rural and urban Americans has shrunk to 72 percent for rural residents and 79% for suburban residents.
“Even though rural areas are more wired today than in the past, current infrastructure does not support consistently dependable broadband access in many rural areas,” said Pew. “This lack of reliable high-speed internet access has come to the forefront of discussions about navigating remote work and school during the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Ag Economy barometer is based on a survey of 400 operators whose annual production exceeds $500,000 annually. According to USDA data, the largest 7.4% U.S. farms have annual sales above $500,000 The margin of error in the Purdue survey is plus or minus 5%.
The homepage for the Ag Economy Barometer is available here.
Source: Successful Farming