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Rural Iowa and Agriculture Need Broadband

Posted on June 11, 2013 at 8:04 AM by Iowa Corn

My 650-acre crop farm and 80-head cow-calf operation in Pottawattamie County might not match the mental image most people get when they think of a diversified global business.

Like every other farmer in Iowa, though, I have no illusions that farming is anything but a global business. In fact, farming today is a fiercely competitive global industry, and it’s one that is getting more high-tech every year.

Given those realities, affordable access to high-speed broadband service is a must-have productivity asset for farms to stay competitive. Fast, smart broadband networks enable the sophisticated online services Iowa farmers depend on, even in our most thinly populated rural counties.

Farmers today enjoy extraordinary connectivity — data is exchanged online with farmers across the county and customers across the world, global market prices can be checked on cellphones and iPads, and mobile communications technology allows the air-conditioned cab of a tractor to double as a rolling office.

Today’s Internet-based agricultural technology ranges from GPS-guided steering of farm equipment and geo-tagging to fleet management and the use of farmer network data hubs. The details vary from farm to farm, but the collective picture leaves no doubt that the Internet has revolutionized modern agriculture, just as it has every other industry.

Unlike the previous generation of farmers, I grew up with the Internet, and by the time I arrived at Iowa State University as an ag science major, the broadband revolution was up and running. Today, that revolution allows me a range of ag-related activity that would be impossible without broadband connections.

The equipment and livestock auction process has been revolutionized — both private farmers and large auction houses are able to stream live video and provide potential buyers with more information about their animals or products than ever before. If a tractor or combine breaks down, I can simply go online to look up information and order replacement parts directly from the manufacturer. And severe weather — although uninhibited by the Internet — can be prepared for with mobile weather apps in the palm of your hand and accurate radar just clicks away.

In addition to running my own farm, I’m an active member and past president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, a partner in a bio-fuel venture and a sales agent for crop insurance. Broadband technology gives me the data-rich and mobile services I need. Of course, we know from experience that there are always new, more sophisticated Internet applications coming.

Predicting the next breakthrough in broadband applications is like trying to predict crop yields and weather patterns — hard to pin down. The only absolutely safe prediction about the future of the Internet is that it will require bigger, smarter broadband networks. So continued private investment in broadband infrastructure is essential if farmers and the rest of the economy are going to have access to future generations of technology.

A healthy competitive market for broadband services drives investment in innovative technology and helps hold down prices. Today, Iowans benefit from that kind of market. We have 202 broadband providers in Iowa. That’s more than Texas, Minnesota or Illinois. And the broadband connection rate among our rural businesses — including farms — is a respectable 73 percent.

Broadband’s rural benefits go beyond business. High-speed broadband offers solutions for rural quality-of-life issues, especially in critical areas like education and health care.

A bright math student in my small town of Minden (population 600) could take advanced courses online at ISU in Ames, and patients in small rural hospitals or health clinics could be examined or even treated by specialists in major medical centers hundreds of miles away.

In the years ahead, then, broadband networks have the potential to slow the migration of young people from rural America by bringing rural America more of what it needs, while reinforcing our farm economy at the same time.

Kevin Ross is a board members for the Iowa Corn Growers Association.  He raises no-till corn, soybeans, alfalfa and operates a cow-calf herd in Pottawatomie County, where he has been farming for 14 years.  Kevin is a graduate of Iowa State University, where he received a B.S. in agricultural studies and farm operations and studied abroad in Australia, Japan and Taiwan. Kevin resides near Minden with his wife and two sons.      

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