Nov 8, 2017
PLATTSBURGH — North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is pushing legislation to increase access to broadband connectivity for rural farmers.
“Obviously this is an issue I learned about as I visit farms throughout the district, as technology is used in so many farms I represent,” she said Wednesday.
Stefanik said a perfect example comes from a Potsdam dairy farmer who needs broadband for a program he uses to automate feeding plans for his cows.
“In my visits at farms across the North Country, farmers have discussed with me how the internet has the power to revolutionize the agriculture sector,” she said.
“To compete in a 21st century economy, our farmers must have access to broadband technology.”
She is urging her colleagues to support the Precision Farming Act, which she called “important agriculture legislation.”
It will encourage construction of rural broadband connections to farms by allowing providers to receive reimbursements for the costs related to construction.
It will also prioritize farmers’ loan applications for additional construction.
Stefanik said the goal is to take a two-pronged approach to addressing rural agricultural broadband challenges by making installation of a broadband line more affordable.
Broadband providers would be eligible for a one-time $15,000 reimbursement for each line installed for a qualifying precision farming operation.
Farmers wishing to apply for loans to cover additional installation costs would find their applications prioritized under the Rural Electrification Act, which also includes funding to cover the cost for installing broadband.
Stefanik’s plan was welcomed by the New York Farm Bureau.
“Access to broadband remains a priority for New York’s farmers,” President David Fisher said in a news release from Stefanik’s office.
“According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, nearly a quarter of all farmers in New York still lack internet service, which can be a detriment to their businesses. Farms need to be able to quickly exchange data, access information and use the latest technology available to remain competitive.”
Precision farming is the practice of utilizing the internet to increase efficiency through data analysis and automation. It can encompass every aspect of the agricultural production chain, from supply providers, fertilizer applicators, veterinarians and farmers all the way to consumers, Stefanik’s release said.
Innovative practices are changing the way farms are producing food, she said. But many rural farmers are unable to take advantage of the technology due to limited broadband infrastructure in their communities.
The legislation follows a plan that Stefanik and several of her House colleagues introduced last week, the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act, also known as the B-CROP Act.
That program calls for grant funding to be awarded for rural broadband projects in high-need areas in combination with the current loan funding available through USDA’s Rural Utilities Service.
“It’s not just farmers,” she said. “It’s rural parts of the country. That’s why we re-introduced this bill that would really address the lack of rural broadband.”