8News: Without broadband expansion, Virginia farmers will fall behind, U.S. Sec. Agriculture says


Expanding broadband to the 35 percent of rural Americans who still don’t have access to high speed internet is critical to keep the country’s agriculture industry competitive and to protect the environment.

That was the message on Friday when U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger for a round table with about 50 Virginia farmers at Featherstone Farm in Amelia County, Virginia.

The farm has been in the Whittington family for generations but, within the last six months, a broadband installation has enabled them to be more productive using precision agriculture.

According to Colin Whittington, their tractors use wireless internet and GPS technology to collect data. He said that information is used to map the soil to determine exactly where to plant seeds and how much fertilizer to use in different areas.

“We’re limiting wasting resources,” Whittington said.

Now, with access to broadband, he’s able to view that data in real time to track trends and maximize output.

The roll out of broadband and precision agriculture technology on farms and ranches could result in at least $47 billion in national economic benefits annually, according to a 2019 report from USDA.

“Technology is not going backwards, it’s going forwards,” Whittington said. “As new things come out, it is going to be necessary.”

But you don’t have go too far from this farm of the future to find people still living in the digital dark ages.

“These projects are popping up across the county but, as a whole, our community just needs more access,” said Robin Whittington.

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposal, dubbed the American Jobs Plan, is still being negotiated in Congress but it calls for a $100 billion investment to connect every American with usable broadband.

“This country needs to make an investment in infrastructure to the largest extent if we are going to remain competitive because our competitors are not stopping,” said Sec. Vilsack.

Spanberger said a major infusion of federal cash is urgent to reach full coverage, especially in rural areas where investments aren’t profitable for the private sector. Historically, she said expansion has been driven by smaller grant programs and local co-ops.

“We have to move past that patchwork effort because when there is a patchwork there are still holes and many of those holes are in the communities I represent,” Spanberger said.

Enabling more farmers to use precision agriculture could also have an environmental impact. For example, with the help of high speed internet, farmers can waste less water and pesticides.

“There is a key desire on the part of farmers, if they have the right resources, to be able to do the right thing for the land, the water and the air,” Vilsack said.

Recent Posts

Feb 29, 2024
Economy & Jobs

Spanberger Statement on Vote to Prevent Government Shutdown, Protect Virginia’s Economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today released the following statement after voting with a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House to pass a short-term, stopgap funding measure — known as a “continuing resolution” — to avoid a shutdown that would damage Virginia’s economy. The legislation includes two staggered deadlines to keep the federal […]

Feb 29, 2024

During Black History Month, Spanberger Introduces Bill to Name Fredericksburg Post Office for Civil Rights Leader, Gladys P. Todd

Gladys P. Todd Was A Revered School Teacher, Voting Rights Advocate, & Community Organizer in Fredericksburg WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today introduced legislation to rename a Fredericksburg post office after Gladys P. Todd, a prominent leader in the Fredericksburg civil rights movement. Located at 1285 Emancipation Highway in Fredericksburg, the post office […]

Feb 28, 2024

Spanberger Leads Virginia Lawmakers in Working to Protect $30 Internet Discount for Virginia Families, Fund Affordable Connectivity Program

The “Affordable Connectivity Program” Right Now Helps More than 455,000 Virginia Households Afford High-Speed Internet WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today led members of the Virginia congressional delegation in a bipartisan effort urging the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations to extend funding for a key discount program that allows more Virginia families to […]