Farming Use of Broadband

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its 2023 report on Technology Use (Farm Computer Usage and Ownership). USDA has released this report every two years since 2005. This year’s report was completed by surveying over 14,000 farms across the country. There are just under 2 million farms nationwide in 2023, down 9,300 since 2021.

Every report since 2005 has shown growing computer usage on farms. Following are the key statistics from the latest report and some comparisons to the past.

69% of farms now have a computer or tablet, up from 67% in 2021. This has grown from 55% in 2005.

85% of farms have some form of Internet access in 2023, up from 82% in 2021. This is up from 55% in 2005. Following are the forms of access at farms in 2021 and 2023 – note that farms can have more than one type of access.

‘                                                            2021    2023

Dial-up                                                  2%       2%

Broadband                                          50%     51%

Cellular                                                70%     75%

Satellite                                               19%     23%

Other                                                     2%       2%

The broadband category includes DSL, cable broadband, and fiber. The report doesn’t mention if the cellular category includes the new FWA cellular broadband offered by big cellular companies like T-Mobile and Verizon. It likely does since an additional 5% of all farms nationwide claim to have cellular connections in 2023 compared to 2021. It’s also likely that the increase in satellite usage is from Starlink, with 4% of all farms adding a satellite connection from 2021 to 2023. It seems likely that the Other category is mostly fixed wireless, but the 2% penetration seems low to me – I encounter a lot of farms using the technology.

31% of farms used the Internet to buy farm inputs (raw materials) in 2023, up from 29% in 2021.

23% of farms use the Internet to market and sell agricultural activity, up from 21% in 2021.

27% of farms in 2023 use precision agriculture, up from 25% in 2021. In some midwestern states – Illinois, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota – the percentage of farms that use precision agriculture has grown to over 50% of all farms.

What this report doesn’t talk about is the percentage of farms that want broadband and can’t get it. A huge amount of the areas covered by BEAD grants are in agricultural areas. My consulting firm does surveys and interviews, and we’ve heard from a lot of farmers who would do more with broadband if they had a better broadband connection.

A report at this high level also doesn’t discuss the creativity that we see with farmers. Many farmers have used a landline broadband connection and have extended it using homemade wireless networks to reach barns, silos, and structures around the farm.

The report also doesn’t talk about the complex software being used by many farms. I’ve interviewed several farmers over the last year who say that. many days. they feel more like an IT professional than a farmer.

It’s going to be interesting in another four or five years to see how many farmers are using broadband after rural grant broadband networks have been constructed.

2 thoughts on “Farming Use of Broadband

  1. Without commitment from the Electric Cooperatives it won’t happen for the farm community, me being one of them

  2. We services farms and simlar producers. The farms don’t need very fast services as they are typically running a single ‘PC’ and then a number of telemetry ( low bandwidth ) devices. However, most farms have 1-10 residences as part of the property. We often build into farms offering services to the entire site. Farmers and Farm hands like some netflix when they aren’t outside working.

    I would say it’s pretty rare that a farm doesn’t have some residence attached so any discussing on what a ‘farm’ needs is most moot because it’s really just another residential customer. They also have little need for ‘business’ class service, home connections or even hotspots work perfectly well for the farm side, with the know pitfalls on residential for those services. They do have tech, but this industry does almost nothing ‘in the cloud’ so the data needs are very minimal.

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