For generations, Nebraskans have been known around the world for the high-quality goods produced on the state’s farms and ranches. These agricultural families value tradition, hard work, and the land they live on. In the digital era, agriculture producers of the 21st century are looking to utilize new information technologies to increase their productivity and success.
Digital tags inform the rancher about the health of the herd. Embedded sensors tell the farmer an array of details on soil moisture levels.
These and other processes are known collectively as precision agriculture, which can help farmers and ranchers make better decisions while running their businesses. In fact, precision agriculture is having one of the most pronounced impacts on ag production since the industrial revolution.
At a visit Tuesday to Northeast Community College in Norfolk, we heard from instructors and students about their exciting precision agriculture curriculum. We look forward to learning more about geographic information systems, the principles of data-based decision making, and how the next generation of ag producers are preparing to modernize agriculture — the backbone of Nebraska’s economy.
Precision agriculture generates incredibly useful information for producers, helping them to be more efficient. But for producers to take advantage of these innovative processes that gather, transmit, and analyze vast amounts of data, Nebraskans, and all Americans, need sufficient internet connectivity.
In rural America today, the broadband needed to support precision agriculture applications isn’t always available. If you’re in the middle of a soybean field and want to access a smart arming app on your mobile phone, chances are, you won’t have a connection. Or if you want to upload the data collected by your smart ag applications to the cloud, where it can be analyzed and put to productive use, you may need to wait for hours while a slow internet connection gets the job done.
But working together with our colleagues in Congress and at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), we are seeking to eliminate the gaps in internet connectivity contributing to the digital divide between urban and rural communities.
To do this, we must identify the areas where connectivity is lacking and also ensure the stability of programs that help to extend broadband infrastructure to those rural areas. At the federal level, there are tools in our arsenal to help deploy broadband services and expand network accessibility, especially in hard-to-reach, rural areas.
The Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, which was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate, would create a task force at the FCC charged with identifying those breaks in connectivity across America’s farm and ranch land. Partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the goal of this task force would be bringing high-speed service to 95 percent of agriculture lands by the year 2025. We support this legislation, and hope to see it pass Congress and become law.
The FCC’s high-cost program within the Universal Service Fund (USF) is another useful tool that enables businesses to invest and build out networks in areas currently lacking broadband services, when it otherwise would be too costly to do so. The FCC has taken steps to modernize high-cost USF support, including a decision this past March that provided additional funding for small, rural carriers — including those serving the Cornhusker state.
Together, we must work to ensure the USF high-cost program has the ability to function well into the future. Consistency and predictability will enable smaller carriers to plan for and grow their broadband networks in rural areas, which, in turn, will make broadband more accessible and affordable for these communities.
Supporting comprehensive internet connectivity will spur heightened productivity throughout rural America. We look forward to discussing our shared priorities with Nebraskans on Tuesday.
U.S. SEN. DEB FISCHER