One of the biggest problems that many farmers and ranchers have doesn't have anything to do with soil or climate or water. Yes, these are all issues that we must solve, but the one problem that is much easier and quicker to solve has to do with technology specifically connecting rural communities to broadband 5g.
Today I'm joined by Marci Green. She and her husband Lonnie are the sixth generation on her family's farm in Southeast Spokane County. There are two sons have now joined the farming operation. They raise wheat bluegrass seed, barley, dry peas, lentils and garbanzo beans.
Our next guest is Sam Kieffer. He serves as the American farm Bureau Federation, vice president of public affairs, where he leads the AFBF public policy advocacy and economic teams in advocating for farmers and ranchers with Congress and the administration. Sam's roots are on his family's grain and beef farm in Pennsylvania.
Us Farmers and Ranchers in action would like to recognize the sponsors of the 2020 Honor the Harvest forum. Welcome to Farm Food Facts. I'm your host, Phil Lempert. One of the biggest problems that many farmers and ranchers have doesn't have anything to do with soil or climate or water. Yes, these are all issues that we must solve. But the one problem that is much easier and quicker to solve has to do with technology specifically connecting rural communities to broadband 5g. Today I'm joined by Marci Green. She and her husband Lonnie are the sixth generation on her family's farm in Southeast Spokane County. There are two sons have now joined the farming operation. Congratulations, Marci. Uh, they raised wheat bluegrass seed, barley, dry peas, lentils and garbanzo beans. I love saying garbanzo. Our next guest is Sam Kieffer. He serves as the American farm Bureau Federation, vice president of public affairs, where he leads the AFBF public policy advocacy and economic teams in advocating for farmers and ranchers with Congress and the administration Sam's roots are on his family's grain and beef farm in Pennsylvania. Marci, Sam, welcome to Farm Food Facts.Sam:
Thank you for having us.Marci:
Thank you for having us.Phil:
Yes. So I want to, I want to read something that I came across of the office of economics and analytics of the FCC commission, a working paper, which I didn't realize. I've never seen a facts that are, that are this stunning before. And I want both of you to comment on, uh, uh, crop yield improvements from increased internet penetration rates at thresholds of 25 megabits per second, download and three megabits per second, upload speeds. Um, which is not very much. Uh, first of all, we want to say that among the findings doubling the number of 25 plus three plus connections per thousand households is associated with a 3.6% increase in corn yields as measured in bushels per acre. They also found evidence of cost savings at thresholds of 10 megabytes per second, download and 0.768 megabits per second, upload speeds, um, with a 2.4% decrease in operating expenses per farm operation, that amounts to 6% of, you know, uh, of, of a difference for a farm, which to be honest with you, uh, from everything and every farmer that I've talked to, it's basically the difference between survival and prosper. Uh, Sam, you know, what do you say when, when you read things like this, why hasn't the government, you know, move forward to improve it. And I know there's this new that FCC has done and that's great news, and hopefully it moves quickly, but this is absurd.Sam:
You're right. And farming is an occupation that runs on small margins and, you know, 6% is, is, is more than difference between survival and flourishing. You know, farming is becoming not becoming, has been for quite some time, very technical. And there is amazing technology available to farm families and ranch families to be more efficient, extremely precise with, with their inputs. Um, but that takes data. It takes internet access and not just, um, you know, shoddy internet access, it takes reliable and high-speed internet access to utilize these tools, to store the data, to leverage the information that's available, to help make informed decisions. And in many cases, you know, instantaneous decisions is what you're going to do on the farm. You know, we see this akin to rural electrification. I mean, many moons ago, there was a very large concerted effort by the federal government to put, um, reliable electricity in, in homes all across the nation today. We don't think about electricity until the power goes out. Um, and many homes don't think about, um, internet and broadband until the wifi router goes down. Um, but these are not just homes, you know, farms or businesses. And, you know, we, we need to make sure that we position, you know, our, our nation, our government, our economy to prioritizing, uh, reliable and high-speed broadband all across the nation.Phil:
So Marci, tell me about your internet. Um, do you have good internet on the farm?Marci:
Our internet is okay. It's not, I wouldn't call it good, but it's better than some. Um, here at our house for our office, we're very limited in our options for internet. What we actually use is, um, basically hotspots from our cell phone plan. Um, that's, that's our main home internet. Um, we've tried satellite internet and it was not satisfactory at all. It was slow. Um, we aren't there's, um, some places they have internet availability where Emma I'll, first of all, apologize, I'm not a technical person. I don't know all the right words to use, but where you have to be able to see a tower from your house in order to receive the internet signal. Our house actually sits down in a hole a little bit with a lot of Hills around it. And so we aren't able to visually, you know, have that line of sight to any of those towers. So what we deal with is, um, like I said, just using our cell phone plan hotspots, and that's our main internet as far as out in the field. Um, when my husband and sons are out, you know, working and, and trying to use internet, which they do a lot in the field, you know, with the technology, just like Sam was saying, we use a lot of technology and mapping and things and, and it's all just, it's real spotty. It depends where you're at in the field. Um, and, but I also work with a lot of other farmers who would love to have the internet capabilities that I have, even though I complain about mine all the time. But, um, you know, there's, I'm very involved in the wheat growers association here in Washington state. And so we do a whole lot of zoom meetings now that, uh, in the last year, and, you know, some, some people in order to participate in those meetings, they have to get in their vehicle and drive down the road a half a mile or a mile to where they have good enough service to actually connect. So, um, like I said, mine personally is okay, not great, but we get by with it.Phil:
So as a matter of fact, uh, I'm smiling because we've had farmers right here on farm food facts that in order to be interviewed, had to get into their truck, do it on the cell phone and do exactly what you said, drive a couple miles away, uh, to have, you know, enough signal. So how would your business change, um, on the farm if you had reliable, strong internet access?Marci:
Um, I think mostly I'm thinking about, you know, in the field, there are a lot of precision agriculture applications and things that we could do more of in terms of mapping and, um, GPS. We do use GPS and those things, but we could do more of it. Um, right now, a lot of what we do has to be done, like, you know, they take a iPad or whatever out to the field and they do their mapping and then they have to go to an office or someplace that has good enough internet to upload it into the computers and into the system. Um, you know, if that could be done, um, in real time, that would be helpful. I know the fact that you quoted earlier about the speed of internet connectivity and how that impacts profitability. I had not heard that before, but it makes a lot of sense to me because with the current farming practices that we use, um, a lot of it is we, like, for example, we do variable rate fertilizer and that's all based on mapping of your fields and GPS and things. And by using that number one, we get the fertilizer into the part air. We spray more in areas of the field where we can utilize the nutrients more, and then we back it off and spray less where we don't, that's all done automatically, but it's all based on the maps and GPS. So, um, that ends up, it increases yield and it decreases expenses because we're not using, um, products that, that we don't need. Um, we're, we're just much more efficient. So that, like I said, I hadn't heard that fact before, but it doesn't surprise me either.Phil:
So Sam, let's talk about the American Farm Bureau Federation's commitment and mission to broadband infrastructure. What are you guys doing? And what's the timeline for this?Sam:
Well, thank you, Phil. So we represent, you know, farm and ranch and rural families from all across the country and, you know, in a pandemic, you know, how do we engage with our folks when we're in the people business and, you know, under normal circumstances, we engage with our folks and face-to-face meetings. Um, so we we've had to learn how to operate differently, and that has shown a light on, um, the greater light on the need for more reliable and better broadband infrastructure all across the nation. Um, last year we were active with, um, you know, Congress trying to achieve legislation, um, that would help set the stage on, on where we go from here. Uh, I think most parties engaged in this conversation understand that there is a need to invest. Um, but in a time like now when the federal dollar needs to be prioritized, we want to make sure that we are focusing our efforts or where it's needed most and where it can have the best opportunity for the greatest impact. And, uh, one of the, one of the first and foremost areas is, is in identifying where to spend, uh, where to invest federal resources. Um, we need to look at how we are currently analyzing and improve how analyzing, where those soft spots are in, uh, broadband access, you know, for, for, for years, decades. Um, we've been measuring penetration of high-speed internet, uh, by how the, um, delivery companies, the broadband companies are reporting back to the federal communications commission. And, um, it's, it's a very low bar of very low bar. So if, if a handful of, of, of households in, in, uh, in a certain square mile radius have decent internet access, that area is considered served, not underserved, but served. It's a very low bar. So the first thing we need to do is get a more granular data on, um, the, the, the, the speeds of internet in households in a much, in a much better fashion, so that we can identify when, where, and how to, to spend federal dollars, the Biden administration, um, has, you know, has made it a priority of theirs to focus on, on broadband. The Trump administration previously, you know, made it a priority of theirs to focus on broadband. And there are, there, there there's various attempts to, to get the ball rolling. But what we, where we need to start is to figure out and properly measure where we need the, the, the infrastructure where we need the, uh, to, uh, to invest those dollars. Because the information we have right now fell is, is, is not as reliable as it could or should be.Phil:
So what you're telling me is when I'm watching TV, and I see all these, uh, cellular companies advertising that they've got 5g, it's, it's nationwide, they're showing you, you know, in rural areas, on farms that everybody has 5g don't believe it.Sam:
I won't say don't believe it. Um, butPhil:
I don't believe it if, if, if Marci, you know, uh, doesn't doesn't have good service and, you know, we could change the economics by 6%. Um, and again, that was just on, on corn. Um, you know, I don't believe it. And, and, you know, you, you said that the current administration and the administration before it habit as a priority, if it's a priority, why, why didn't it happen over the past four years?Sam:
Great question. I think a lot of it has to do with where we are, where we spend our, where we prioritize and how we focus on it. And there, there's a lot of discussion out there about, about satellite, um, as, as an opportunity, um, Marcy gave you her, her experience with, with satellite, there are opportunities, um, to get connected, but the latency, uh, and the speed of that connection, you know, is that leaves something to be desired. You know, w right now a lot of our folks are needing to utilize, uh, cellular 5g in order to connect, uh, not just for interviews with you, Phil, but also for work for school, uh, making sure that their kids are, are, are, you know, socially and academically connected, you know, in the middle of a pandemic. Um, it, it, it, it, we, we need Congress, you know, to make it a priority. The administration's, uh, current and previous administration said it's priority, but, uh, we, we need bold leadership and bipartisan leadership w in the federal government to make it a priority and be willing to spend some money and to partner with the private sector to focus, um, you know, uh, private and public dollars in an, in a manner to adequately expand broadband access. And this is not just a rural issue. This is this, this is an issue that transcends population density. Uh, there, there are, there are schools, uh, school students in, in, you know, highly populated urban centers that cannot get access, um, not reliable access to, to connect to their classrooms.Phil:
Uh, so Sam, as I look across farming in general, um, what we've seen over over the past year since pandemic began is consumers for the first time really seeing, um, the frailties of our supply chain, um, and a lot of attention is there a lot of attention is, you know, those people who are working on farms, people are more concerned now, um, more than ever, at least in my lifetime about farmers making money, farmers, uh, importance to our livelihood. Do you think that, you know, the wind is now at our back and whether it's broadband or any other issues that Marcy and other farmers are facing, that we will now have, you know, more power and more attention, uh, for farmers and ranchers.Sam:
You, you raise a good point, Phil, you know, certainly, you know, farmers have been widely respected by the American public for quite some time, but, you know, April and may of last year was the first time, you know, that many generations in this country saw empty shelves in the grocery store. And it was scary. Um, you know, and that the supply chain burped, we, we needed to, uh, um, on a dime shift from producing, uh, the, the supply chain itself shift from manufacturing and packaging, you know, food and food items for a restaurant and commercial settings to retail, grocery shelves, the food was there, but the system in between had to catch its footing and regroup. And that caught the attention of, of Americans all across the country. And while Americans were widely respected prior to that, um, I think you're right that more, more folks now, um, have had the empathetic sense of, of what it takes to grow food. Um, we had an amazing or organic campaign, um, that, that our members across the nation, uh, latched onto, um, hashtag still farming that they use to tell the story. And, uh, we used to more or less help set the public at ease that there is not a food shortage. We just need the supply chain to catch up. And, um, we reached a tremendous amount of, of people, uh, throughout that very organic campaign. But, uh, throughout all of this, that there is what, what I would, what I would call, not just a renewed interest, but a reinvigorated interest and, uh, consumers getting to know and support, uh, farmers in their communities, as well as farmers, farm families, ranch, families, you know, realizing that there's an opportunity there for them to engage in those conversations as well. And it's not just a transactional relationship of, Hey, I've got, I've got cattle. Let, let me sell you, you know, some, some beef, um, what we're also talking about, you know, those, those, those issues that impact the economy, that most of the time, you know, farmers and ranchers, um, you know, are, are, are, and an aggregate businesses are just thinking about because it impacted their pocketbook. Um, but I think that the American public is seeing, you know, with renewed interest, uh, you know, for the first time in quite some time that those issues impact them as well. And we'll make things easier. I hope, but at the same time, you know, agriculture, um, you know, is not the only sector of the economy that, that experienced the supply chain Burke. And you know, what we're talking about here is, is broadband and information is, is an access to fast information is, is vital, not just to agriculture, but every sector of the economy talk about healthcare. And you talk about, you know, our children and, and family members that you're needing to engage in, you know, uh tele-health you know, for their annual checkups, you know, so I think all these things, you know, coming to a head create an opportunity for agriculture, the food industry, um, you know, the, the rest of the economy to really join hands and say, you know, we we've been chewing around the edges of this discussion for quite some time. Let's, let's put partisan talking points to the side, let's put, uh, rural, rural and urban differences to the side, because in this instance, you know, those things that unite us and let's, let's, let's focus on creating and delivering solutions that will offer reliable broadband, um, access to all parts of the nation, not just one.Phil:
So Marci, we're going to give you the last word. Um, and, and it's a two part question. Number one, how has farming, um, your farming, uh, changed during the pandemic and what are you looking forward to after this whole pandemic is over?Marci:
Well, as far as how it's changed, um, during the pandemic, I don't, our farm has been fairly insulated. Um, just in that we are very, we aren't high labor intensive, like some types of agriculture, um, and the people who work on our farm are primarily our family members. So we're already relatively remote, um, in that it has impacted well, it's impacted some of our prices for our products that we sell, and it's also impacted, um, getting parts. And, um, that part of was because The, uh, they slowed down the transportation, um, structure slowed down and, and the local dealers are, don't always, aren't always able to, um, stock the parts that we need. And so when something breaks down and they say, Oh, well, you need this part, but it's going to take us four days to track it down and get it here. Um, so that's one thing. And then other than that, it's, um, there's also a lot of things that have to be done virtually where we used to just go to meetings. Um, for example, my husband and my sons all have private applicator, pesticide licenses. They have to get credits every year, continuing education credits to maintain those licenses. In the past, the local fertilizer, chemical dealers all had, um, you know, a couple of times a year, they would have in-person grower meetings. And so, you know, if you attended those, you got your credits for your license. Well, those aren't happening. So now everyone has to get their credits by attending virtual workshops and zoom meetings and things. And, um, so that, that has been a challenge. Um, in fact, they're working on that in my family and on our farm. That's what they're doing this week. And, um, I mean, yesterday, just for example, I personally attended, um, four zoom meetings, um, having to do with our, our state and national organizations. And at the same time, my husband attended three other, uh, zoom meetings, trying to get his pesticide credits. So, um, yeah, our internet was being used a hundred percent yesterday, all day long. Um, but those are the ways that it has impacted us. And as far as what I'm looking forward to when this is all over is face-to-face face-to-face interactions with my fellow farmers and growers and in-person meetings. Um, I, that the value of having that face-to-face interaction interaction just can't be replaced on with the technology with zoom and virtual meetings.Phil:
Well, well said. Um, so Marci Sam, thank you both so much for joining us today on farm food facts. And we look forward to Marci and every other farmer in the country having broadband very soon.Marci:
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