The recent introduction of “smart” technology into farming practices provides a new way for farmers to manage natural resources and hence, the economic profitability of the farm. Smart farming practices based on data collection will prove to be beneficial for water conservation and soil longevity.
State of the art smart farming solutions and new Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are enabling many American growers to take a more sustainable approach to the monitoring of livestock, crops, and soil conditions. These technologies are transforming rural America by increasing the quality, quantity, and cost-effectiveness of agricultural production while concurrently addressing key environmental issues for small rural agribusinesses.
Managing the farm as an ecosystem, not a factory, requires constant monitoring of the essential functions that soils perform – including the regulation of water flow and emissions of greenhouse gases. Technology allows farmers and ranchers to more accurately monitor crops and fields in real-time through the utilization of sensors and drones. To support these evolving technology tools, we must ensure that the Federal Communications Commission and Congress work to prioritize policies that allow our communications infrastructure to evolve at the same rapid pace. While deployment of fiber is ideal, build out of next generation 5G network may be a more viable option for rural areas.
The National Grange has advocated for the continued evolution of communications infrastructure for over a hundred years. As our current policy priorities state, the Grange will remain deeply involved in maintaining the free flow of information and services to rural citizens and encourage service providers to improve networks that will deliver additional communications advancements to our communities.
I anticipate that the forthcoming 5G technologies will lead to a broader adoption of precision agriculture and field monitoring systems. Precision agriculture is the practice of collecting and processing data in real-time through sensors on equipment used to assist farmers in planting, fertilizing, and harvesting their crops. Pictures of the fields and livestock, data on soil fertility and crop conditions can be transmitted back to the data collection site using satellites and drones. Farmers can leverage this data to make crop rotation and maintenance decisions, for example, that will lead to the reduced use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Soil is arguably the single most prized element of agricultural ecosystems. Therefore, many farmers are already utilizing sensors to create crop irrigation systems driven by moisture, temperature, and nutrient measurements. Soil monitoring allows farmers to check ground moisture in multiple locations rather than driving to each location, digging in the ground, and deciding whether to irrigate. This is especially key for farmers and ranchers that manage thousands of acres of land and multiple farms. And perhaps the most convenient part of remote soil monitoring is that they can do so from a single location which allows them to convert travel time to other management priorities.
Farmers rely on precision agriculture for one reason—it is perfectly precise. Interruptions or slow network connections could have negative consequences on crop yield and quality of the final product, which can ultimately impact a farmer’s livelihood. 5G networks will better support these technologies, increasing the “precision” in precision agriculture, and ensuring that these high-tech tools deliver on their full potential. The deployment of 5G networks will make precision agriculture its sustainability enhancements, largely used thus far for larger-scale farming, much more accessible to the smaller-scale farmer.
These new innovations are the future of the agriculture world as we know it. And we are hopeful that agriculture can bridge the gap between the acceptances of these new innovations in technology and the power that they could have for our members in their daily lives. Its further development and the insights the new technology delivers will not only improve productivity and profits, it will allow National Grange members to work smarter and not harder.
Betsy Huber is the president of National Grange (@NationalGrange), an organization that strives to provide opportunities for individuals and families to develop to their highest potential to build stronger communities and states as well as a stronger nation. She is also a member of the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee.