By Dr. Carrie Castille, Louisiana Director, USDA Rural Development
Agricultural producers, farmers, and ranchers are critical to creating rural prosperity throughout Louisiana. However, many rural farms have little to no connection to broadband and face unique challenges to continue growing our food. To help farmers succeed, access to broadband connectivity is essential for production agriculture.
Many of the latest technologies that help farmers to implement innovative farming techniques require broadband connections for data collection, and analysis performed both on the farm and in remote data centers. However, 29 percent of U.S. farms have no access to the Internet according to the USDA report, “Farm Computer Usage and Ownership, 2017.”
Applying costly inputs to the field only when and where truly necessary saves time and money. Farmers must have access to high-speed internet service, the latest technology to make their farms smarter and more sustainable, and improve their bottom line. Rural broadband is a pathway to global markets and e-commerce for agriculture and other industries.
Recently, the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018 was passed. Precision agriculture provides tools and technology that allows farmers to be more resourceful and efficient. Without broadband connection, precision ag equipment cannot reach its full potential.
Precision agriculture allows farmers to accurately assess the land they farm and to make necessary improvements to increase production and profits. This technology can collect an enormous amount of data related to water and soil needs to sustain crops, yields, and manage irrigation systems. The equipment related to this process can be costly but can be funded through the USDA Rural Development Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program.
The ability of farmers to get data that is collected to companies that can analyze it and provide real-time solutions has been a hindrance. There is a need for broadband connections that will allow farmers to upload data remotely instead of manual transfers that can be cumbersome. The ability of a farmer to download information overnight and have it sent directly to the consultants is a tremendous asset to today’s more tech-savvy farmers.
Additionally, USDA Rural Development can help fund new infrastructure and infrastructure expansion projects to provide rural farms, homes, and businesses with access to reliable broadband. The Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program (Broadband Program) furnishes loans and loan guarantees to eligible entities. Funds can be used to construct, improve, or purchase a building and equipment needed to assist our rural and agricultural manufacturing facilities.
Technology is an indispensable way of life for farming and operating a business. Our goal at Rural Development is to assist our farmers in securing critical broadband access and ultimately to stay abreast of current information, communicate with customers, identify e-commerce opportunities, and connect to new markets around the globe. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss and identify projects to support your operations. My office number is (318) 473-7921 or email me at Carrie.Castille@la.usda.gov.