"While most Americans take broadband for granted, 26.4% of rural Americans lack access to broadband," the Missouri farmer told the Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit. "This is alarming, particularly when compared to the only 1.7% of urban Americans who lack such access."
Yet even these disheartening numbers understate the extent of the problem.
Current broadband data and maps "fail to accurately determine broadband access," Hurst said. "Farmers and ranchers ... must have access to fixed and mobile broadband to be more efficient, economical and responsive to environmental needs."
The upside to broadband, meanwhile, is significant. Hurst presented the committee with a Farm Bureau study showing that widespread broadband service could boost the agricultural economy by an estimated $64.5 billion.
Broadband connectivity allows equipment like cloud-connected planters, irrigators, tractors, and harvesters to automatically change application rates for seed, fertilizer and more. This improves sustainability by enabling farmers to apply less water, protect soil health and precisely plant seeds, which also helps farmers save money.
"After we collect this data, we must transfer it from our machines to the company who writes our 'prescriptions,' share it with our partners who supply our seed, and eventually utilize it when making crop insurance and other business decisions," Hurst said. "Transferring this data, which is essential to the future success of every farmer, requires access to fast, reliable and affordable broadband."
Reliable broadband will also contribute to the health and welfare of animals, Hurst said. Digital connectivity is playing an increasingly important role in optimizing animal care.
"From monitoring feed usage and rations to scheduling delivery of animals, livestock farmers use broadband daily to improve the efficiency of their operations and ensure the health of their herds ...All the data collected can be compiled into production reports which help farmers make more informed decisions about their farm and ranch."