November 27, 2022

Gaffner: Left to our own devices

If you’re from a rural community, you’ve been there. There are places you go and you just can’t seem to get any kind of cell reception.

Dead zones.

It’s a shame that in the year 2022, in the age of LTE and 5G, that we are still waiting here in rural America for some decent connection to the internet.

I was running into the same problem in my community, and left to my own devices with no help from broadband companies, I was forced to create my own broadband company to provide reliable service for my home, farming operations and neighbors.

As farmers, our business is global and as you know it’s difficult to stay competitive when you need to use software in a remote field with little to no broadband access. The good news is, our concerns have been heard.

The Illinois Soybean Association is working on an innovative strategy to bring broadband access to rural communities across the state.

According to the state of Illinois, agriculture is our No. 1 industry in terms of economic impact, which means that bringing quality broadband to rural Illinois is a fundamental issue for our future.

Poor quality broadband is a barrier to our rural economies, hindering economic growth from improvements in the efficiency of ag operations and productivity growth.

Similarly, it impacts our quality of life by preventing connectivity for educational purposes, telemedicine, professional opportunities, and access to online information.

It’s time our rural communities have quality broadband, which means adequate download speed and robust upload speed. Network resiliency and scalability are also critical.

ISA is has established a broadband taskforce to lead efforts to gaining access to broadband. Our goals include influencing public resource allocation decisions, elevating agricultural concerns within public discussions and ensuring public technology investments are future-proof.

Through a collaborative project funded through the Sustaining Illinois Seed Grant Program and sponsored by the Illinois Innovation Network, ISA along with collaborators from Illinois State University and Southern Illinois University are actively conducting research to develop a roadmap for smart farming in Illinois by conducting a mapping and spatial analysis of rural broadband access and quality.

The project aims to meet three objectives: analyze cropland production in counties with poor quality broadband access, assess the accuracy of broadband maps using drones to collect field data by comparing results to FCC maps and use remote sensing to identify high points in rural areas that may serve as potential locations for installation of broadband infrastructure.

An initial cropland production analysis has been completed for 14 Illinois counties selected across the state, along with estimates for future gain in production if broadband access was improved to expand precision farming: Bond, Christian, Clinton, Edgar, Hancock, Henry, Iroquois, Kankakee, La Salle, Macoupin, McLean, Ogle, Washington and Wayne.

Project stakeholders and collaborators are being consulted for feedback on research methodology and results.

Through this partnership, our goal is to ensure that farmers across rural Illinois will gain and maintain access to strong, reliable broadband connections in order to continue scaling production efficiently and cost effectively.

It is imperative that farmers receive this access to continue feeding the world.

Scott Gaffner is an at-large director on the board of directors of the Illinois Soybean Association.