To the editor:
Agriculture is an essential sector of Ohio’s economy. According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the agribusiness industry within Ohio contributes over $100 billion to the state’s economy each year. In addition to that, it supplies one of every eight jobs in Ohio. While these are impressive numbers, there is a bridge that many Ohio farmers do not have the ability to cross.
BroadbandUSA estimates that 15% of households in Ohio do not have any access to the internet. Inadequate rural broadband infrastructure not only impedes communities’ access to critical resources like education and healthcare, but it also restricts the emerging technologies that farmers now utilize. As a result of new technology in the precision agriculture realm, there are many efficient technologies that these farmers cannot access impeding their ability to efficiently operate their business..
Precision agricultural technology has the potential to increase Ohio farmers productivity by around 4% according to the Federal Communications Commission. This comes with cost reductions and higher yields; simultaneously improving farms’ resiliency and financial performance in a highly volatile market. The ability to analyze fields reduces the amount of pesticides and fertilizers needed to keep crops healthy and productive, which means the entire community benefits from a more environmentally friendly production. Even having GPS guided tractors that allow for land to be used in the most efficient ways is possible if farmers have access to the internet.
Beyond the technological innovations that farmers could be using if they had reliable access to the internet, there are even more benefits to providing high-speed internet for our farmers. The USDA’s Economic Research Service found that when farmers have access to faster and more reliable internet they are much more likely to use digital tools like ecommerce platforms which allows them to sell more of their fresh products to their surrounding communities.
Nationwide, the FCC has found that nearly 25% of rural Americans lack access to high speed broadband compared to 2% of urban Americans. This gap is hindering rural Americans’ ability to use new technology that improves the efficiency and profitability of their businesses. In order to provide a stable food source for our growing state, it is becoming increasingly more important to bring our farmers to the digital age so that they can apply these new technologies.
In order to achieve these goals, our state must encourage policies that allow for communities to expand access however is best for them. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to broadband access. Communities should be allowed to utilize private providers, public-private partnerships and community broadband programs to fit the needs of their residents. It is imperative that we expand access to broadband to advance not only our farming industry but our state as a whole.
Chairman of Broadband Access Ohio