Life on a farm conjures up idyllic images of communing with nature, working the land, and getting back to what’s essential. Increasingly, however, a successful farm is dependent on another factor: highspeed internet. If you’re an urbanite, you may be forgiven for wondering what broadband has to do with farming. In truth, a high-speed connection can be a critical business differentiator in today’s hard-wired economy.
No one knows this better than Stephen Bartlett, who left his office life and a degree in hydrogeology behind to take management of his wife’s family farm in the town of Sandwich, New Hampshire (population 1,331). In the summer, he sells produce to restaurants, farmer’s markets, and customers at the family’s on-site farm stand. In the fall, he works for a timber framer and chairmaker. In the winter, he logs and – after the syrup season in the spring – it’s back to planting. Bartlett is a successful farmer and entrepreneur by many measures, but he knows that access to reliable broadband would take his business to another level. Here are three reasons why farmers like Bartlett need fast broadband:
Bartlett’s internet connection allows him access to the web, with its world of information and communication. But in order to perform bigger downloads, he often has to leave the farm. When he needed to download Quickbooks accounting software, for example, he recalls, “I sat here watching the hourglass spin and spin. And then someone in the computer store installed it for me in a few minutes.” With high-speed broadband, Bartlett would be able to take care of these tasks at home, saving on work hours, gasoline, and the wear-and-tear expenses entailed by the extra travel.
Currently, Bartlett mostly sells his farm products over the phone. But with a faster connection, he would like to turn that into an online market of his own. This would include marketing and promotion of his farm and farm stand, as well as the ability to sell to larger online farmer’s markets. What is another feature that Bartlett would like to integrate with better connectivity? Online payment methods, including portable card readers for customers at the farm stand. “Being able to accept card payments anywhere would be a real boost,” he concludes.
3. Smart Farming
Technology is transforming almost every industry, and farming is no exception. For farmers and ranchers, real-time access to climatological information is crucial. And, more recently, a whole new generation of smart technology for farming – which includes everything from precision handling of livestock to automatic watering to self-driving tractors – has become available. This type of “smart farm” would help Bartlett and other farmers automate much of their operation, meaning lower costs and higher productivity.
All in all, Bartlett estimates that high-speed internet would increase his productivity by some 15%: a substantial amount for any business owner, but even more for small farmers who operate with much smaller margins. In a landscape in which America’s farming industry continues to shrink, reliable rural broadband would allow our farmers to reap the fruits of the new online economy. Besides helping to feed America, our country’s farming products are an important export and driver of our economy. Bottom line? When our farmers succeed, we all succeed.
The Beyond community is working to expand broadband to all parts of our country. To learn more about why rural broadband is such an urgent priority, read our related article here.