The Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute recently coordinated a farm visit for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman, Ajit Pai, as part of a larger visit to UNL organized by UNL's Law College. Chairman Pai visited with Nebraska growers to discuss precision agriculture and ways to bring connectivity to farms and rural communities. Nebraska Farm Bureau member Steve Althouse hosted the group at a farm near Waverly, Nebraska, belonging to his father, Art Althouse. Steve, Art, and cousin Doug Althouse, farm 4,000 acres of dryland corn and soybean fields with the help of Branson Townsend.
Steve highlighted that agriculture today is completely different from what it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Every piece of farm equipment today has some amount of precision technology: sprayers with section control/precision application, combines with GPS, planters with row shut-offs, etc. Steve said that the nature of precision ag is that large amounts of data are generated every day on the farm, but it can be a challenge for producers to know what to do with all of those data. The Althouses, like other growers willing to try the latest agricultural innovations, have found that precision agriculture can improve on-farm efficiency and reduce costs.
Brothers Brandon and Zach Hunnicutt farm irrigated corn, soybeans, and popcorn near Giltner, Nebraska, and use a large array of precision technologies including use of drones, soil moisture sensors, and advanced farm management software. While broadband coverage is generally good in the eastern part of the state, connectivity is a challenge for many producers in Nebraska. In the past, uploading farm data could take Brandon and Zach nearly 3 days. They recently had fiber internet installed and as upload speeds have increased, the time it takes to upload their data now takes closer to 3 hours. Zach added that while this is great for them, there are producers who would love to be using more precision technologies but are unable to due to a lack of broadband connectivity. Some of these producers are only a few miles away in the same county.
The visit was an opportunity for Nebraska growers like Steve, Zach, and Brandon to voice the opportunities and challenges they see for their industry, particularly those relating to connectivity and ag data. Chairman Pai expressed a commitment to ensuring that rural communities and farms have the connectivity they need. Earlier this summer, the FCC announced the creation of a Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force which seeks to understand the connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture