Technology Policy Recommendations
Technology Policy Recommendations
Improve access to broadband internet for rural ranchers and farmers
Access to reliable, affordable, high-speed internet connectivity is critical for farmers and ranchers, both today and in the future. Access to broadband is necessary for farmers to communicate with customers, follow commodity markets, gain access to new markets, and continue their education. Unfortunately, many farmers—along with millions of Americans living in rural communities—lack that access.
Furthermore, new agricultural technologies (that rely on internet to fully function) have the potential to improve efficiency, sustainability and profitability on the farm. Applications like PastureMap, a software platform that streamlines regenerative grazing management by managing grazing history, keeping track of herd health, and keeping ranch teams informed, have potential to become everyday tools for ranchers—if they are able to access broadband. These tools not only make on-farm regenerative grazing practices more efficient, but they also help ranchers make more money off their regenerative practices by helping to monetize data and communicate with customers. Companies like IndigoAg are helping farmers quantify carbon sequestered through regenerative practices and sell carbon offsets. Technology used to measure carbon sequestration affordably could quickly become instrumental for farmers and ranchers.
However, adoption of these technologies depends on availability of reliable, affordable internet connectivity. Farmers and, more broadly, rural communities across America lack adequate access to internet connectivity. Out of twenty-four million Americans living in households without access to a broadband provider, eighty percent live in rural areas. Without significant and smart investment in rural infrastructure, digital agriculture technologies will continue to only be available to the elite few. Farmers without reliable internet access will be excluded from the “emerging generation of Precision Agriculture technologies” and the accompanying profits.
North Carolina legislators should authorize additional funding through the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Program to fund projects specifically designed to encourage Internet service providers to connect farms and ranches with modern Internet infrastructure.
N.C. Dept. of Information Technology (DIT) should increase collaboration with public and private entities, including the N.C. Dept. of Agriculture, N.C. State, private companies in Research Triangle Park and community organizations.
Develop open source technology that meets the needs of regenerative graziers
Investment into regenerative agriculture is contingent on the fact that it can deliver on its goals to improve soil health, increase carbon sequestration, and reduce agriculture emissions. To prove they can meet these goals, small and medium producers need technology to facilitate on-farm data collection, such as ways to measure carbon sequestration or track livestock rotations. Increased public investment in data collection and research is needed to better quantify the benefits of regenerative agriculture and validate the claims of its proponents. Without the ability to track their data and prove outcomes, farmers cannot be adequately paid for the public goods they produce. Facilitating research partnerships and data collection tools will allow farmers to be compensated for the conservation practices they are already implementing, whether the funding comes from USDA conservation programs, from private industry interested in carbon offsets, or from local governments paying for ecosystem services.
USDA has already made some strides in creating software that is applicable to the needs of regenerative producers. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research has been the home of most of these projects. Established in the 2014 Farm Bill, the FFAR aims to use public-private partnerships to create innovative solutions to agricultural problems. Recipients of FFAR grants must match an equal amount of the funding. Recent FFAR projects of notable importance to regenerative farmers include the development of open source platforms with FarmOS and LandPKS. FarmOS offers farm management and planning assistance. The Land Potential Knowledge System is a free, open source app developed by USDA to help “provide individual users with point-based estimates of land potential” and make decisions about climate change mitigation practices . The LandPKS mobile app allows users to identify soil type and monitor vegetation, as well as store and share data. Open source platforms like FarmOS, and LandPKS avoid pricing farmers out of the technology market, as they are generally free to low cost. Open source platforms can also support a diverse array of services and can be continually updated to reflect the best science and practices. Although these apps represent important first steps, they will need continued support to ensure they can evolve with the needs of regenerative growers.
COMET-Farm is another USDA tool that is useful to regenerative graziers. Created by Colorado State University and NRCS, the COMET-Farm tools draws from soil and climate data to estimate the greenhouse gas mitigation potential of land management decisions. The tool asks farmers to input data on their pasture management practices. Livestock farmers can also input their herd size and composition. COMET-Farm then integrates soil and climate data to produce a GHG reduction quantification. Although the COMET Farm tool succeeds in generating general GHG estimations, variations in sampling coverage limit its applicability. COMET-Farm’s soil samples originate from around 100 sites. COMET-Farm also limits its estimation of carbon storage to first 30 centimeters of the soil. Deep soil, however, may be where most of the carbon sequestration benefits of regenerative grazing reside. Thus, state- and local-level updates to COMET-Farm are needed to improve its accuracy and reliability.
USDA should increase research grants to develop open-source software.
NRCS should recruit state partners to improve the coverage and accuracy of COMET-FARM in North Carolina.