Poor or no internet for 3 in 10 of largest U.S. farmers

A sizable portion of America’s largest farmers “are unable to take advantage of many applications and services” on the internet because they don’t have a connection or it is of poor quality, said a Purdue University survey released on Tuesday. The gap in access exists at the same time the sector is embracing precision agriculture technology such as GPS guidance of tractors and combines.

Twelve percent of farmers surveyed for the monthly Ag Economy Barometer said they had no internet access and 16% reported a poor-quality connection. The survey is directed at the top tier of U.S. agriculture—farmers and ranchers with production worth at least $500,000 a year.

The infrastructure bill signed by President Biden last fall included $65 billion to improve internet services for rural areas, low-income families and tribal communities. Most of the money would be distributed in grants to states. The White House says the USDA will issue a funding opportunity notice this year for nearly $2 billion through its ReConnect program for deployment of rural high-speed internet.

“Just three out of ten respondents said they had ‘high quality’ internet access followed by 41% who chose ‘moderate quality,’ wrote Purdue economists James Mintert and Michael Langemeier, who oversee the barometer.

“Twelve percent of respondents said they did not have internet access at all with another 16% choosing ‘poor quality,’ suggesting that nearly three out of 10 farms in the February survey are unable to take advantage of many applications and services which require reasonable quality internet access.”

Half of the farmers in the biggest corn, soybean and wheat states and a quarter of farmers nationwide have embraced precision agriculture, said a USDA report on farm computer usage last summer. “This would include the use of global positioning (GPS) guidance systems, GPS yield monitoring and soil mapping, variable rate input applications, use of drones for scouting fields or monitoring livestock, electronic tagging, precision feeding, robotic milking, etc.”

Some 82% of farms across the country had internet access in 2021, up from 75% in 2019. Half of farms had a broadband connection and 70% used a cellular data plan for access. Two thirds of farms had a desktop or laptop computer and 77% had a smartphone.

Rural adults are less likely than suburban adults to have broadband service at home and are less likely than urban adults to own a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer, said the Pew Research Center last August. The digital divide between urban and rural Americans has narrowed since 2016, and 72 percent of rural residents have broadband at home, compared to 79% of suburban residents.

“Even though rural areas are more wired today than in the past, current infrastructure does not support consistently dependable broadband access in many rural areas,” said Pew. “This lack of reliable high-speed internet access has come to the forefront of discussions about navigating remote work and school during the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Ag Economy Barometer is based on a telephone survey of 400 operators with production worth at least $500,000 a year. USDA data say the largest 7.4% of U.S. farms top $500,000 in annual sales. The Purdue survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5%.

The homepage for the Ag Economy Barometer is available here.


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