Smart Agriculture: Driving Innovation in Rural America

Tue, September 22, 2020

BroadbandUSA’s September webinar, Smart Agriculture: Driving Innovation in Rural America, focused on efforts by federal agencies, universities, and other organizations to develop and deploy smart agriculture technologies and the ways these new technologies can aid agricultural planning and production. NTIA’s Jean Rice, Senior Broadband Program Specialist and Karen Archer Perry, Senior Policy Analyst, moderated a panel featuring experts involved in the Precision Agriculture Task Force, a federal advisory committee co-chaired by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as well as the Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC) Smart Agriculture and Rural SuperCluster, a multi-stakeholder platform for working on projects and sharing knowledge and best practices. Rice pointed to the development of food shed and freight analysis zones by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture that eliminated the deficit of local food in the Pittsburgh food shed as an example of the work developed through the SuperCluster.

Dennis Buckmaster, Dean's Fellow for Digital Agriculture, Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University, and Co-chair of the GCTC Smart Agriculture and Rural SuperCluster, outlined the goals of the data pipeline and covered tools Purdue University developed to improve data collection and model building. He also demonstrated commercial examples of smart technology applications that work toward the ultimate goal of improved decision making. These data insights afford farmers greater flexibility when facing unpredictable circumstances such as market shifts or droughts.

Megan Nelson, Economic Analyst at the American Farm Bureau Federation, provided an overview of the potential economic benefits that precision agriculture technologies will unlock in the agricultural sector. USDA estimates that broadband technology and infrastructure has the potential to bring $64.5 billion in annual benefits to rural areas, and precision agriculture technologies, enabled by access to broadband, have the potential to improve market coordination, planning, and production functions. Nelson emphasized the need for accurate broadband maps, connectivity, and funding assistance for building out broadband in rural areas in order to bring about these improvements and economic benefits.

Chad Rupe, Administrator of USDA’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) summarized RUS broadband programs, interagency work on broadband expansion, and the Precision Agriculture Task Force. The Task Force is planning to release its annual recommendations to the FCC next month. USDA provides support and expertise to working groups within the Task Force related to jobs and adoption, connectivity, mapping and data, and deployment on unserved agricultural lands, with the goal of achieving reliable capabilities on 95 percent of agricultural lands by 2025. They have studied topics such as real-time versus delayed aggregation of data collection on farms, integrating fixed and mobile wireless, using agricultural data to improve funding methodology, and incorporating cropland data to improve mapping.

The presenters emphasized the imperative that connectivity reach rural areas in order for the agricultural sector to access precision agriculture solutions and the importance of collaboration among decision makers and stakeholders to achieve this connectivity.

To listen to an archive of the webinar, visit the BroadbandUSA website. BroadbandUSA hosts monthly webinars on broadband access and utilization and digital inclusion. Follow us on Twitter @NTIAgov to learn more and get updates on NTIA and BroadbandUSA’s work.