The lack of reliable broadband connectivity is not a new concern for the agriculture sector. With nearly 40% of rural Americans lacking access to rural broadband services, technology obstacles continue to delay the progress of precision agriculture across the countryside
What was first enabled by the last farm bill, the Federal Communications Commission Precision Ag Task Force (PATF)on Rural Connectivity has been focused on increasing broadband capability across farms and ranches.
In this week’s CoffeeTalk, Pennsylvania farmer and PATF member, Andy Bater, joined us to share his personal experience, knowledge and where they task force efforts are today.
Carrying into year-two, the PATF goal remains: Achieve reliable capabilities on 95% of agricultural land in U.S. by 2025.
Throughout the last year, the task force has been working with four major groups as “sub parts” of the task force to identify what needs to be done from a technological, workforce, and mapping perspective. The individual reports from each group will be consolidated into one master reports and available to the public later in 2021.
As one group in the giant effort to build broadband infrastructure in rural America, Bater says it is important to understand the numerous ways funding is made available in the agriculture industry.
“With recent funding for rural agriculture, we need to make sure the money coming in is spent smartly,” Bater says.
Broadband accessibility and data capability is one of the biggest concerns in the broadband space today, especially on farms across the United States.
“One challenge with data accessibility is readjusting the guidelines on what is acceptable internet,” Bater says. “For some time, it has been 25 (gigabytes per second) down and three up, but that isn’t really going to cut it anymore.”
As the task force moves forward, Bater says the main area of focus is examining how symmetrical the data flows to and from a farm field. And notes that with the increase in the internet capacity needed, it is nearly impossible for small carriers to provide the needed infrastructure.
Serving the agriculture industry is key for the FCC, but the connectivity needs of farmers and ranchers is typically very different – making serving the entire agriculture sector diverse and multifaceted task.
To even begin to accomplish the feat, a baseline is needed and that baseline is developing in the form of mapping.
“Getting data, making sure it is accurate and understandable—that is the most important part of the plans moving forward. That data will define “95% reliable connectivity” because right now, the definition of what 95% reliable connectivity is not clear,” Bater says. “Moving forward, the focus needs to be around rural broadband connectivity in a mobile space both from a public and private network perspective.”
Adding another level of complexity, funding for the project has drastically increased over the past 12 months.
connectivity in a mobile space both from a public and private network perspective.
“We’ll need to be patient and we need to be clear in what we’re building from a standards perspective,” Bater says. “We need to build systems that are interoperable so that we don’t saddle farmers with multiple techniques, and we need to make sure that we are getting our money’s worth when we work with a private carrier. We have to make sure that what they say they are delivering, they are really delivering.”
Bater says that a three-point standard for precision agriculture will allow capability across all equipment systems and reliable connectivity for both farmers and ranchers alike.
The conversation provided insight into where we are, where we are headed and what we need to do to get there; we’ll be excited to sit down with Bater again in a few months to learn what the latter half of 2021 brought for the PATF team.
To learn more about the Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force goals, meetings, and related materials on advancing rural broadband internet access, visit fcc.gov.
To see this CoffeeTalk in action, visit the AGI Community News page.