Wicker leads new legislation on precision agriculture

Published 7:00 am Thursday, February 8, 2018

By Roger Wicker

Information Technology Can Help Farmers Cut Costs and Boost Harvests

Our farmers know that a good harvest is a blessing.  They also know that a season’s worth of crop yields can turn on a dime because of unexpected weather, insects, or disease.  They understand the value of our rich agricultural resources and the importance of using these resources wisely.

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Over the years, important advancements in agriculture have sought to help our farmers produce fruitful harvests and protect their crops.  Tractors, backhoes, plows, seeders, and combines are familiar sights on the modern-day farm.  However, with the rise of precision agriculture, often called “smart farming,” the machinery assisting farmers has gotten much more high-tech.

Equipment like drones, robots, and sensors no longer seems out of place among row crops.  Instead, this equipment has become increasingly useful, capable of sending farmers critical real-time data about their crops and informing them about environmental factors, such as soil or air quality.  In this way, farmers have sound, reliable information to make decisions about the management of their fields.  These data-driven decisions can lower costs, streamline operations, and boost yields.  They can help eliminate unknown variables from hurting a harvest’s outcome.   

For this technology to work, our farmers need access to high-speed broadband.  I recently introduced a new bill, titled the “Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act,” that would direct federal attention toward closing the gaps in broadband access on agricultural land.  The bill would set a goal of providing broadband to 95 percent of America’s croplands and ranchlands by 2025.  Specifically, it would require the Federal Communications Commission to create a new task force in coordination with the Department of Agriculture for the sole purpose of developing policy recommendations that promote rural broadband and precision agriculture nationwide.

Like this precision agriculture bill, another bill I introduced last year would also help promote the deployment of high-speed internet to unserved or underserved areas across the country.  Titled the “Streamlining Permitting to Enable Efficient Deployment of Broadband Infrastructure Act,” or the “SPEED Act,” the bill would expedite the permitting process for communication providers who want to build out broadband in areas that have already undergone required environmental or historical reviews. 

Americans in both urban and rural areas should not be held back by unnecessary delays or duplicative reviews when internet access could significantly improve their quality of life and economic opportunities.  I am glad President Trump shares this vision for broadband expansion and supports ways to make this expansion easier.

With nearly 37,000 farms covering more than 10 million acres, Mississippi could reap major dividends from precision agriculture.  As our state’s leading industry, agriculture in Mississippi generates more than $7 billion.

In addition to helping our farmers succeed, technology that enables greater productivity and cost savings could maximize this economic impact even further.

To realize these rewards, we need to lay the groundwork for broadband connectivity now.  The “Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act” and the “SPEED Act” would help put the right policy and regulatory pieces in place at the federal level.  The goal is to ensure our farmers – who work tirelessly to feed millions of people – are not left behind in the 21st century.