Technology in agriculture that requires an internet connection is only becoming more prevalent, and progress to expand broadband access was viewed Tuesday by Congressman Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Brendan Carr.
Latta authored the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, which was signed into law with the Farm Bill. The act is intended to expand access to rural broadband so more farmers can use precision agriculture technology such as self-driving machinery, drones and satellite imagery. The bill begins the process of identifying and recommending policies to help the agricultural community by expanding access to rural broadband.
“You want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth off the land,” Latta said, adding trends are showing the increased usage of broadband internet on farms can help profitability as it increases efficiency. “Your production costs are going to go down and your revenues are going up.
“But if we don’t have the broadband out here, it’s not going to work, so that’s why it’s so important,” he continued. “It’s great to have the commissioner out here because, under my legislation, it’s having the FCC and the Department of Agriculture working in tandem to get where we need to be.”
Latta and Carr stopped at New Vision Farms in Napoleon to view the technology that’s in use at the farm.
Mark Hoorman of New Vision Farms explained the need for internet connectivity for farms continues to grow.
“As technology evolves from other areas of the industry, whether it be our equipment that we buy or updates to the equipment we have, it’s going to be very important to make sure we have it,” Hoorman said. “They’re not making equipment less technical. Every piece of equipment that a farm purchases now has some level of connection to the internet and sometimes more than one.”
Nick Rettig of New Vision Farms added there are monitors on all of the grain bins which can send alerts to smartphones if certain levels are reached and adjustments can be made if needed.
“It allows us to more efficiently manage our farming operation,” he added.
Hoorman said the connection can be used to transmit data about the task the equipment is doing or about the machine itself and receiving data — directions — about tasks that need to be completed. GPS satellite connections are also common features on the equipment.
“The broadband will be used in the future to assist in the GPS-guided steering,” Hoorman added.
Latta noted it’s been a few years since he last visited New Vision Farms and the changes due to technology are visible.
“Technology keeps changing and how they can monitor and utilize their time, utilize the equipment to make sure they have a very good product that goes to market,” Latta said.
On Tuesday, Latta and Carr also stopped in Lucas County to discuss telehealth at ProMedica, wireless internet service provider Amplex Internet in Wood County and Luckey farmers who utilize its service and Wood County Sheriff’s Office.
Carr, who is one of five FCC commissioners, said it’s important to visit areas to see what the needs are as they work toward increasing broadband access, including farms.
“For us, to get out and to be able to see firsthand just the tremendous amount of data that’s being collected,” Carr said. “You can see the productivity, the efficiency that can come to agriculture when you get broadband deployed.”
Carr said infrastructure is a large piece as they work toward increasing broadband access.
“When you think about broadband, it really is an infrastructure project. How do we make it easier to deploy broadband infrastructure? To some extent, that’s streamlining the permitting and other regulations that apply,” Carr said. “We’ve made some great strides in that the past couple of years.”
Carr said more spectrum is needed and they are working to continue to free up the radio waves needed for more broadband.
“We’re pushing more spectrum out now than ever before,” he added. “The steps we’re taking are starting to pay off. The internet speeds across the country are up 40 percent, the digital divide — the percentage of Americans who don’t have broadband — is narrowing.
“There’s still a lot more to go, but we have the right plan in place, so now it’s just keeping the hammer down and getting some more progress,” he continued.
Henry County Commissioner Glenn Miller said he’s aware there’s areas in the county that don’t have access to broadband internet services.
“Agriculture is really relying on this,” Miller said. “It’s become a necessity — not a luxury — to be able to conduct business. Like here (at New Vision Farms), their markets are affected by what’s going on in the world, so being able to have access to the data and access they need is critical.”