Study reveals ramifications of limited rural broadband service on American farmers
ST. LOUIS — A new study commissioned by the United Soybean Board reveals the lack of access to broadband in rural areas takes a significant toll on American farmers and the economy.
According to “Rural Broadband and the American Farmer: Connectivity Challenges Limit Agriculture’s Economic Impact and Sustainability,” an alarming 60% of U.S. farmers say they do not have enough connectivity to run their businesses. USB initiated the rural broadband study to better understand how and why farmers currently access the internet, and the implications that access has for farm business decisions, economic viability and overall sustainability.
Data from the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service indicates that farming contributes to nearly $133 billion of our country’s gross domestic product. Based on USB’s rural broadband survey, the lack of connectivity negatively impacts farmers responsible for $80 billion of gross domestic product.
“End users ask farmers to deliver a consistent and high-quality crop without adequate internet access and reliable broadband speeds, which undoubtedly impacts their efficiency and sustainability,” said Tim Venverloh, vice president of sustainability strategy for USB.
Other significant findings include:
• 78% of farmers do not have a choice in internet service providers.
• 60% of farmers say the internet service they do have is slow, with most relying on cell signals or hotspots to connect to the internet.
• 40% of farmers have a fixed internet connection, while others rely on satellite connections.
“There’s a clear disparity between connectivity in rural versus non-rural areas,” Venverloh said. “The lack of connectivity, however, extends to farmers past the farm gate. When farmers can’t maximize the functionality of their equipment, particularly in the middle of the field, it has repercussions beyond the farm. 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.” The results of the qualitative and quantitative research highlight the critical need to improve rural broadband access, which has implications far beyond quality of life (information, communication and entertainment) in addition to the livelihood for 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.”
USB will share survey data with internet service providers, as well as influencer organizations working to tackle policy and technical challenges involved in delivering high-speed broadband access to rural communities.
For background on the study, more than 2,000 primary and secondary farm operators responded to a combination of online and mail-in surveys to participate. Thanks to cooperation from American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, Illinois Soybean Association and North Carolina Soybean Producers Association, the report represents a cross-section of U.S. agriculture. Participants included 86% who grow field or row crops such as corn and soybeans; 21% who grow specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables; and 55% who raise livestock. In-depth telephone interviews were also conducted with participants in eight states in July and August 2019. ❖