AMELIA COURT HOUSE, Va. — Broadband internet access is no longer a luxury—it’s a necessity that has the potential to transform rural communities and enhance economic opportunities for Virginia farms and other businesses.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack met with Central Virginia farmers in Amelia County on June 18 for a roundtable discussion on issues facing the farm economy as it rebuilds from the COVID-19 crisis. They discussed trade concerns, estate taxes, conservation efforts and vertical integration, with a focus on expanding broadband internet infrastructure.
Vilsack and Spanberger toured Featherstone Farm in Amelia County, a grain crop and seed operation. The farm is operated by Amelia County Farm Bureau members Colin and Robyn Whittington, who explained how they use newly available broadband internet to deploy precision agriculture technology.
Broadband connectivity allows equipment like cloud-connected planters, irrigators, tractors and harvesters to automatically change application rates for seed, fertilizer and other inputs. This improves sustainability by allowing farmers to apply less water, protect soil health and plant seeds to achieve optimal yield and reduce environmental impact.
President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan is calling for a $100 billion investment to connect all Americans with broadband. A 2019 USDA report found the deployment of both broadband internet and precision agriculture technology on U.S. farms could result in at least $47 billion in new economic benefits every year. Biden’s infrastructure proposal is still being negotiated in Congress.
“Millions of rural Americans still lack access to high-speed broadband internet, and that’s why Rep. Spanberger is fighting so hard to secure funding for high-speed broadband from USDA and other federal agencies for her district,” Vilsack said.
Last year she announced $28 million in federal funding for high-speed broadband internet infrastructure projects in Louisa, Orange, Goochland and Powhatan counties through the USDA’s Broadband ReConnect Program. Spanberger serves on the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture and chairs its conservation and forestry subcommittee.
“The past year and a half has been a challenging period, especially for many of our area’s farmers and producers,” she said. “While there is much work ahead to support the rural economy and invest in the next generation of crop and livestock producers, I am optimistic about how this moment of economic recovery can create new opportunities for Central Virginia farmers and producers.”
–Virginia Farm Bureau