Statistics can be friend or foe when it comes to proving a point, and they certainly worked in favor of Peter Sykanda at an education forum earlier this month in Georgina, Ont. , hosted by the Rural and Remote Broadband Community of Canada (CRRBC).
Sykanda, agricultural policy analyst at the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) whose focus areas include internet connectivity and rural telecommunications trends, said during a Connected Farm session, “we stand up for farmers and want them to have the same access to Internet services than our urban counterparts”.
This is a critical point, because without proper connectivity, smart farming, also known as precision farming, simply cannot happen.
At this point, Sykanda looked at a survey conducted by OFA in 2020 that asked farmers about the connectivity issues they face, which he added was virtually a repeat of a similar survey carried out in 2015.
The bottom line was this: Rural internet connectivity wasn’t such a big issue seven years ago, but since then, he said, “a fire has been lit among our members,” when it’s about having the right service.
One of the main findings of the most recent survey, Sykanda added, is that farmers indicated that increased business opportunities would arise when better internet connections were in place.
It is here, he says, that the situation has become problematic. Compared to 2015, there was a substantial increase in “the number of farmers indicating that they need more than one internet connection to manage the amount of data generated. This likely reflects the fact that they are adopting more digital technologies and/or that the technologies themselves generate a lot more data.
The problem, Sykanda said, is that frequent internet outages occur: “These are real implications for our members. Beyond the general inconvenience, we had farmers who responded that they were simply unable to engage in regular business activities, that they did not have access to the market information that they needed and that they could not participate in online learning opportunities. Some indicated real productivity losses.
Survey results revealed that more than 57% of respondents indicated that they had not invested in precision agriculture technologies due to a poor connection, or were delaying any type of investment. purchase until connectivity issues are resolved.
“When it comes to precision farming technologies, my approach to the government has been to say that reliable high-speed internet is the best thing you can do to fight climate change,” Sykanda said. . “This will allow farmers to remain world leaders in productivity, but also Canada to continue to be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions related to agricultural production.”
Ontario’s agriculture industry has a key ally in making this happen in an organization called the Regional and Rural Broadband Project or R2B2.
Shayla Spalding, a research assistant with the organization, founded in 2007 by Dr. Helen Hambly, a professor in the University of Guelph’s School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, described it on the panel as ” Canada’s oldest rural broadband research initiative.
“We are particularly interested in the use and availability of high-speed internet on farms and in agrifood systems,” she said. “Our research examines where basic services are available, and we map and assess rural broadband gaps.”
On its website, the organization states that “the digital telecommunications infrastructure underlies most, if not all, dimensions of regional economies. Today, the Internet is essential to the well-being of those who live and work in small towns and rural areas.
“Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food sector has a number of new digital tools and processes as a result of developments in various technology areas. R2B2 calls this “the connected farm” involving integration across real and virtual landscapes. These include wireless optimization and agronomic decision support tools.
Spalding said the connected farm is precision farming, “but it’s more than using precision sensors and precise technologies in the field and with animals. This is a new digital ecosystem of which farms are a part.
“Farmers are increasingly aware of these business and technological innovations, and they are calling for a national strategy for agricultural broadband in Canada. Farms in Ontario and across Canada need better broadband service to innovate and move forward in this world of great change and challenge.
According to a article about titled R2B2 Bridging the digital dividepublished earlier this year on the University of Guelph website, rural residents can pay up to three and a half times more for slower download speeds than urban residents – if the internet is available.
David Worden, the project’s lead economist, said, “The issue of poor rural broadband is a multifaceted problem that deserves a multidisciplinary solution. One of the root causes of the problem is that the financial incentives for ISPs are simply not there.
“Here in Canada, there is very little research on micro-level effects, such as the impact of introducing better broadband into a household.”