The Internet’s Influence on Agriculture

Technology improves and heavily influences most industries, including the once simplistic agricultural industry. Farmers today are utilizing the Internet to obtain information about weather forecasts, market reports, industry news and trends and to communicate with other agriculturalists among other uses.

“Broadband Internet access is becoming essential for both businesses and households; many compare its evolution to other technologies now considered common necessities such as cars, electricity, televisions, microwave ovens and cell phones,” said Rural Broadband At A Glance authors Peter Stenberg and Sarah Low.

According to Sternberg and Low, 13 percent of farmers were using the Internet for farm business in 1997 and use increased to 55 percent in 2007.

However, a geographic discrepancy still exists among Internet users. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cites a 9.3-percent gap between urban and rural Internet usage because of high costs and limited availability. Many rural Internet users resort to accessing the Internet at public places where broadband is available, limiting their ability to quickly and conveniently obtain information.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) developed a plan to extend Internet access to rural- American communities as required by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The act provided $2.5 billion to the USDA for loans and grants to increase broadband provision in primarily rural areas by Feb. 17, 2010.

American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) supports the FCC in its efforts to extend broadband access to the rural populace, which, consequently, will significantly help rural farmers. AFBF Executive Director of Public Policy Mark Maslyn stated, “Many farmers and ranchers conduct their business operations from their homes and need access to government resources and market information available on the Internet. Therefore, affordable home-broadband access is especially important to keep American agriculture competitive in a world marketplace.”

AFBF compiled a list of recommendations for ARRA developers:
• The FCC should consider location when determining broadband availability.
• The FCC should consider price or marketplace competition in determining access to broadband services.
• Broadband should be designated a “supported service” eligible to receive support directly from the Universal Service Fund (USF), an extension of the FCC, which administers programs for high-cost companies serving rural areas, low-income consumers, rural health-care providers and schools and libraries. The USF should be used to help with long-term deployment of broadband in rural areas.
• Broadband access in rural areas should be increased using any technology including wireless.

To ensure an affordable, accessible Internet resource, Maslyn urges the FCC to consider AFBF’s suggestions while devising a national broadband strategy.

“America’s farmers and ranchers need viable rural communities for the goods and services required for their agricultural operations,” Maslyn said. The plan “…will have long-lasting impact on the lives of America’s farm and ranch families, their rural neighbors and future generations of rural Americans.”

What else should the FCC consider while developing this plan? How can other industry groups become involved to voice opinions about the plan? Will equal access to the Internet change market statistics?

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