Expanding wireless internet access in rural areas will continue to fuel the truly game-changing advances being made by precision agriculture. These include new ways to grow crops using less water, seed, pesticides and fertilizer. Made possible by a faster mobile internet, precision agriculture will continue to support new innovations like driverless tractors, robots and drones that are already increasingly handling farming tasks.

The heart of these improvements is the next generation of wireless high-speed internet -5G. USA Today calls 5G the “wicked fast fifth generation” of mobile broadband and it promises connections up to 100 times faster than what we have today.

In April, President Trump announced a $20 billion project called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to build out high-speed internet service in underserved communities. 5G will be the foundation of this effort. Over the next decade, this fund is expected to connect up to 4 million homes and small businesses with faster and more reliable internet service.

For farmers, 5G will be one of the most beneficial technological advancements seen in generations. Imagine a farm with ground-level sensors collecting data on soil, humidity and crop growth that then feeds that information back to a dashboard. That dashboard displays the health of the soil and alerts farmers of any need for additional seeding, watering, fertilizing, or pest control.

Greater precision also enables unpreceded levels of sustainability for managing otherwise resource-intensive crops. These practices protect and preserve healthy soil and land, and also make fiscal sense for an industry that operates on razor thin margins. 

With current computing power and mobile internet speeds, the task of syncing everything in this process can take 30 to 60 seconds, on a good day. But better cloud computing power along with 5G wireless is predicted to bring that down to less than 1 second. The benefits: higher crop yields and savings on resources, and a more consistent and responsive environment that lets agricultural producers maximize all of their assets, including time.

Recently, a well-known technology publication devoted its cover story to the ways that farmers will benefit from the technology revolution. For example, on a 2,500-acre farm in Tennessee, the day begins with a father and son reviewing the latest satellite imagery on their iPads to determine which fields need attention. Computer enhancement highlights potential areas in need of help.

Cross-referencing with ground-level sensors helps the farmers make precise determinations on which areas need more fertilizer and which areas are unlikely to meet production costs, thus conserving resources and lowering costs.

The potential benefits to U.S. farmers from embracing these new 5G technologies are huge. During the next 30 years, the world’s population is projected to grow by about 2 billion, totaling 9.7 billion by 2050. While this represents a massive economic opportunity, farmers also feel a tremendous pressure to “do more with less” while striving to meet these needs

The growth in precision farming technologies made possible by 5G internet will also be a major help as farmers contend with changing climate issues. A 2017 National Academy of Sciences report projected that each Celsius degree increase in global mean temperature would, on average, reduce global yields of wheat by 6.0%, corn by 7%, and soybeans by 3%.

Against this backdrop, U.S. farmers with access to 5G innovations will be better equipped to confront changing climate and have an even larger opportunity to sell their product to a growing world population.

Under Chairman’s Pai leadership, the FCC has put forth immense effort to expand broadband access across America and has worked to ensure that rural Americans are not left behind in the quest for next generation connectivity. The Commission has set forth a number of initiatives that stand to benefit those in rural communities and whose livelihoods depend on agribusiness. The hope is that initiatives like the ones the FCC has laid out will continue to prosper and bring faster speeds and new technologies to rural communities around the country.  

5G wireless is the foundation of much of what makes this possible. The timing couldn’t be better and the opportunities for farmers to create more resilient businesses and plentiful yields will be enormous.

Betsy Huber is the president of the National Grange.

For more information go to www.agri-pulse.com.