"What is “next-generation precision agriculture?

Enabled by digital tools and connectivity, next-generation precision agriculture is beginning to be applied across the entire food value chain to the benefit of both the producer and consumer, substantially increasing crop and animal yields, improving distribution, and reducing input costs. And USDA concludes that this technology could “have the potential to generate a ‘killer application’ that leads to a demand for more or quicker expansion of rural broadband infrastructure and services.” 

The report notes that the expansion of broadband throughout America’s rural areas would also enable Internet service access for other uses, such as forestry, telemedicine, and distance learning. But bringing broadband to rural areas would benefit more than just the people and companies that live there:

Unlocking this potential value, USDA claims, requires America to scale adoption of connected agriculture technologies and expand its rural broadband Internet infrastructure. “[W]ithout reliable, affordable high-speed Internet connectivity at both the farmhouse and in the field, many of these technologies cannot realize their full potential.”

The report details how unreliable broadband service undermines scaling adoption of precision agriculture:

Some farmers dedicate significant time and effort to find workarounds to insufficient Internet service, which takes time away from managing their businesses and serving their customers. 
Some precision agriculture technologies function with basic Internet connections, so even slow speeds are better than no connections at all. But many require a more reliable and high-speed Internet connection as a minimum requirement. 
Without access to online learning and peer sharing platforms, farmers are less likely to succeed with technology implementation, having wasted money, time, and effort without realizing complete benefits. 
Some of the more innovative and risk-tolerant rural telecommunications providers and co-ops are deploying nontraditional, creative methods to help local farmers gain Internet connectivity, highlighting an untapped customer base for larger-scale providers willing to understand and tailor their services to rural communities’ needs.

What’s Next for the USDA
The report says that sustained leadership and coordinated action by public and private players can help address the challenges of getting Internet infrastructure, digital technologies, and on-farm capabilities available at a level that meets estimated producer demand. 

This “coordinated action” must focus on six key priorities:

Tailor deployment of Internet infrastructure to communities.
Incentivize development of innovative technologies and solutions, both for scaling connectivity and improving agricultural production.
Create the conditions that allow, encourage, and reward innovation, including identifying the statutory or regulatory obstacles that hinder new, innovative providers.
Coordinate across public programs to effectively use taxpayer funds and develop new partnerships.
Build capability to scale adoption and realize value.
Clarify and emphasize the importance of rural connectivity to all consumers of agriculture commodities.
The report concludes by saying the USDA will be “engaged in multiple facets of infrastructure and technology deployment, including financing rural capital investments.”

USDA indicated that it is committed to answering this call to action with concerted efforts, as well as the implementation of an intradepartmental working group. “We invite our partners to address the challenge as well, so that together, we can deliver lasting prosperity for all Americans.”





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