Why Rural Broadband Will Decide Who Wins AgTech

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AgTech broadband

All other craziness aside, 2020 has been a painful reminder that America ranks 11th (and dropping) in broadband access. The U.S. isn’t exactly a haven for the work-from-home movement, especially in rural areas.

To that end, we need to talk about farms. On the surface, a farm might seem like the last place in need of high-bandwidth access — but everyone in agtech knows data is a cash crop, which means poor connectivity makes for a poor data harvest. What could have been an accurate yield prediction based on image classification and weather trend data could easily fall flat due to low internet speeds.

It’s one thing to use that data crop to make seasonal predictions or capex investments – it’s another entirely to have data impacting a farm’s real-time operations, in the kind of synchronized dance all IOT companies show off through their utopian marketing materials. We don’t get there without rural broadband for agtech, and according to one recent study, 60% of farmers don’t have the necessary connectivity to run today’s operations, let alone tomorrow’s.

Taking a wait-and-see approach is, as always, a recipe for losing market share. Will policy and government funding fill the rural broadband gap? Maybe – but innovators like Google have made a habit of getting to the opportunity first, not only by dismantling assumptions about utilities & infrastructure, but by actually leapfrogging the status quo with solutions from mild (Google Fiber) to wild (the Loon project). Perhaps that’s a trivial matter if the priority is to expand rural broadband in general – but the moment agribusiness interests step in, that priority could shift and splinter in favor of vested interests. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time America built infrastructure to suit commerce over communities.

Then, there’s the snowball effect. If you’re John Deere, you already own a farm’s most pivotal hardware. By gobbling up other equipment and device companies, you set yourself up for a horizontally integrated model that is just itching to flip the switch on real-time data transfer through seamless data integrations. What does a farm look like one day after that broadband connection fires up? It looks like a farm controlled by John Deere; so it goes for any hardware or equipment company that can produce & maneuver data at scale.

Preparing for these sorts of seismic transformations is what we do at Headstorm. We know someone’s eventually going to turn on the bandwidth hose — we want our clients to have seeds in the soil when that happens.

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