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Broadband Business Blues
Friday, October 11, 2019 3:07PM CDT
By Katie Dehlinger
DTN Farm Business Editor

MOUNT JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) -- Sixty percent of farmers say they don't have enough internet connectivity to run their businesses, and that has influenced critical business decisions and overall profitability, according to a recent study funding by the United Soybean Board.

Whether it's a reliable enough signal in the office to file tax paperwork, the ability to upload yield maps from the tractor to the cloud or turn off the irrigation pivot when it starts to rain, 59% of farmers that participated in the study said they want to incorporate more data into their operations, but many lack the connectivity to do it.

One Illinois farmer quoted in the study said his broadband signal is more reliable than dial-up internet, while cellphone service is touch-and-go. "We're quite a distance from any major metropolitan area, so we don't have strong signals. That means I'm reluctant to buy technology that requires good service or connectivity everywhere. If I can't be guaranteed internet access, then it's not of value to have the new piece of equipment, either."

Of the 2,000 row-crop, livestock and specialty-crop farmers that participated in the survey, 37% wanted to increase their use of data to make better decisions, while 19% want to use it to improve their efficiency and 10% cited cost savings.

"When farmers can't maximize the functionality of their equipment, particularly in the middle of the field, it has repercussions beyond the farm," said USB vice president of sustainable strategy Tim Venverloh in a press release. "More and more of the future is about data and data transfer. The timely dissemination and use of data is becoming more important in a precision ag and decision ag world."

Among the study's other major findings:

-- 78% of farmers don't have a choice in internet service providers.

-- 40% of farmers have a fixed internet connection, while others rely on satellite connections.

-- More than 90% access the internet on their smartphones, which they say is the most reliable.

As many farmers know firsthand, cellphone signal can be sketchy. One North Dakota grower that participated in a qualitative phone interview said he had to get 5 or 6 miles from home before his cellphone signal became reliable. Even then, the call dropped three times during his conversation with the interviewer.

While many farmers would use better connectivity to monitor their bottom lines and improve their quality of life, the study also found internet connectivity can play a role in helping farmers achieve their sustainability goals.

One Arkansas farmer said she would like to have more moisture sensors to help make irrigation decisions, which would help conserve water and fuel. She'd also like to be able to have more access to edge-of-field nutrient monitoring data from a local university to help reduce fertilizer runoff.

Farmers contribute $133 billion to the U.S. GDP, and "with almost 60% not having adequate internet, that means farms that contribute nearly $80 billion to GDP run on limited internet connections," the report states. USB plans to share the survey results service providers, as well as influencer organizations working to tackle policy and technical challenges involved in delivering high-speed broadband access to rural communities.

"Farmers continually look for ways to improve efficiencies while protecting natural resources," Venverloh said. "Upwards of 50% of the farmers we surveyed want to incorporate more technology into their operations, but they are held back by limited connectivity. Improving their access to broadband needs to be a priority."

Katie Dehlinger can be reached at Katie.dehlinger@dtn.com

Or you can follow her on Twitter @KatieD_DTN


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