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Farm equipment group links technology, sustainability and bandwidth

Farmers like technology that makes their operation more sustainable and profitable, such as fuel-efficient engines, automation and their latest passion, precision agriculture.

It’s sometimes called “smart” technology, to reflect the way it intelligently and positively influences the precise application of so-called inputs such as fertilizer and crop protection products (and irrigation water, where applicable).

Use too little of a particular input, and it’s not very effective. Use too much, and the environment takes a hit, not to mention the bottom line.

Use just the right amount – with technology’s help – and the results are significant.

Here’s why it’s important. The precise amounts of inputs needed by plants to maximize production and sustainability can vary drastically, even throughout the same field.

Using tools such as satellite maps of fields connected to sensors and computers on machinery like tractors and sprayers, farm equipment can be made to determine how much goes where. It’s called variable rate technology.

Farmers also have access to auto-guidance technology. It basically allows machines to drive themselves and plant, spray or spread inputs to the centimetre. This prevents seed and chemicals being wasted where they’ve already been applied.

New farm equipment sales are booming. Commodity prices are strong, meaning farmers have some money in their pockets. When they do, history shows that’s when they buy new machinery.

“All indications are that the farm economy is going to continue to be strong into 2021 and perhaps for years to come,” says Curt Blades, senior vice-president of ag services for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. “Ag equipment sales numbers typically go hand-in-glove with the ag economy.”

So expect to see more modern technology in the fields, not less. New technology in planting, harvesting, and in tractors in general is, according to Blades, “absolutely part of the story and that is driving a whole lot of sales right now.”

A huge irony in all this technological progress is that farmers are among the least served group in North America for bandwidth and Internet. A farm needs to be broadband powerhouse to really exploit available technology.

Lately, in the U.S., the agricultural industry has taken up the cause. Manufacturers trying to convince farmers to buy sophisticated equipment realize that they, among others, should also help lobby for the infrastructure to maximize technology’s value.

The cause, called the American Connection Project, was launched a year ago by Land O’Lakes. Now, it’s backed by more than 50 companies and organizations advocating for $80 billion to be earmarked and spent across the country for border-to-border broadband.

Other aspects of its mission include providing free wireless in some rural areas, and training young people to help rural communities establish broadband. That will help them take advantage of the economic opportunities it brings – not only improved precision farming possibilities, but features such as on-line sales and e-commerce that the connected world takes for granted.   

The most recent development from this effort is a program called the American Connection Corps. It vows to fund up to 50 lobbyists (it calls them fellowships) for two years to each pound boardroom tables and develop relationships for better connectivity.

It’s not all giant manufacturers who have stepped up; Illinois Extension, Microsoft and the Mayo Clinic for example are also American Connection Corps sponsors and supporters, each recognizing how important broadband is to health and education, not to mention food production.

In Ontario, the province’s planned overall investment in broadband is now nearly $4 billion over six years. The province says about 700,000 households and businesses still lack access to adequate broadband speeds…or have no access at all.

The kind of industry-wide assertiveness being shown by the American Connection Project would surely be welcome.

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