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Precision Agriculture Depends on High-Speed Connectivity

By 2050, the United Nations predicts that the global population will reach 9.6 billion, substantially increasing food supply and demand. In 2019, the agriculture, food, and related sectors contributed $1.1 trillion to the national gross domestic product with $136 million being from American farms. Growth has risen steadily over the past decade, highlighting the immense pressure to keep pace. Precision agriculture technology provides the solution, allowing farmers to work efficiently, generate profits, and employ environmentally sustainable farming practices.  

One of the earliest uses of precision agriculture came in the 1980s when GPS became available to civilians. Farmers quickly adopted this new technology to improve planting, fertilization, and pesticide application. Helping farmers avoid missed areas of their field or apply pesticides and fertilizers more than once, GPS reduced costs and increased farming efficiency. GPS is also now widely used in “variable rate technology,” which allows farmers to fertilize areas of the same field at different rates so that the right nutrients maximize crop yields. By using fewer pesticides and fertilizers, there is less runoff into water sources preserving water quality and improving environmentally friendly practices. Plus, GPS allows farmers to operate machinery in inclement or low-visibility weather such as rain or fog. 

At the same time, robotic technologies are improving efficiencies on farms as well. Typically, agricultural robots are used to automate tasks that are slow and redundant such as harvesting crops, weed control, and packaging inventory. However, more sophisticated applications are being seen at dairy farms. Milking robots are gaining popularity with medium-sized family farms, used to milk cows and more efficiently leverage family labor instead of hiring staff.  

While GPS guides tractor systems and robots work on the ground, drones have taken to the sky to improve farming efficiency. They are used to observe crops aerially, manage grazing livestock, measure biomass, detect disease, and work as an irrigation system.  

The combination of these technologies enables farmers to more efficiently utilize irregularly shaped farms located in the eastern US. Unlike the large, rectangular fields in the Midwest that were conducive to mechanization, eastern farms were often turned into pastures or abandoned due to their irregularity or rocky nature. Precision agriculture technologies will make them more attractive since they are located in areas with higher rainfall and closer to markets. Consumers will also find this more attractive as more and more support the farm-to-table movement that focuses on locally sourced agricultural products. 

With the integration of these modern farming technologies, the demand for reliable, high-speed fiber networks is increasing. Data collection and analysis depend on high-speed connectivity both on the farm and in data centers. In rural areas where farms are predominantly located, farmers often lack access to terrestrial networks, relying on satellite connectivity that often is unpredictable in terms of latency, capacity, and cost of high data volumes. By delivering fiber and data center connectivity to rural farms, they can more efficiently utilize the precision agriculture technologies that are changing the industry. To meet this need, service providers have begun to densify fiber deployment in rural areas and implement 5G to allow them to collect data in real-time. 

The agricultural industry is not the only one benefiting from improvements to connectivity and data. Find out how data is being used by businesses. 

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