A significant portion of America’s largest farmers ‘can’t take advantage of many apps and services’ on the internet because they don’t have a connection or are of poor quality, according to a Purdue University survey released Tuesday. . The access gap exists as the sector embraces precision farming technology like GPS guidance for tractors and combines.
Twelve percent of farmers surveyed for the Monthly Farm Economics Barometer said they had no internet access and 16% reported a poor connection. The survey targets the top tier of US agriculture – farmers and ranchers whose production is worth at least $500,000 a year.
The infrastructure bill signed by President Biden last fall provided $65 billion to improve internet services for rural areas, low-income families and tribal communities. Most of the money would be distributed as state grants. The White House said the USDA will issue a notice of funding opportunity this year for nearly $2 billion under its ReConnect program for rural broadband Internet deployment.
“Only three in 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 had no internet access at all, and a further 16% chose ‘poor quality’, suggesting that nearly three out of 10 farms in the February survey do not are unable to take advantage of many applications and services that require reasonable Internet access.”
Half of farmers in the largest corn, soybean and wheat states and a quarter of farmers nationwide have adopted precision farming, according to a USDA report on farm computer use last summer. “This would include the use of Global Positioning (GPS) guidance systems, GPS yield monitoring and soil mapping, variable rate input applications, the use of drones for field scouting or livestock monitoring, electronic tagging, precision feeding, robotic milking, etc.”
Some 82% of farms nationwide had internet access in 2021, up from 75% in 2019. Half of farms had a broadband connection and 70% used a cellular data plan to access it. 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, a said the Pew Research Center last August. The digital divide between urban and rural Americans has narrowed since 2016, and 72% of rural residents have broadband at home, compared to 79% of suburban residents.
“Even though more rural areas are wired today than in the past, the current infrastructure does not support consistent, reliable broadband access in many rural areas,” Pew said. “This lack of reliable high-speed internet access has come to the fore in discussions of remote work and school browsing during the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Ag Economy Barometer is based on a telephone survey of 400 operators whose production is worth at least $500,000 per year. USDA data indicates that the top 7.4% of US farms exceed $500,000 in annual sales. The Purdue survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5%.
The Agricultural Economics Barometer home page is available here.