Opinion: Universal internet helps make food more sustainable

Urban consumers could become great advocates for rural internet

New tech in agriculture can make a farm more efficient and sustainable, but strong connectivity to the internet is essential to make it work.

Consumers wanting to reduce the carbon intensity of their food should advocate for better rural internet.

Most agricultural towns have broadband, but in the country cell service fades. Telematics produced by farm equipment has to be stored, getting pushed to the cloud at the farmyards while IoT devices use networks, like LoRaWAn. Network-controlled automation is impossible.

New tech in agriculture – like self-driving tractors, precision water uses or blockchains – can make a farm more efficient and sustainable, but a strong cellphone signal, or internet, is needed to make it work.

Consumers wanting well-sourced, sustainable food – and a story behind it – have little understanding of this technology.

Farmers haven’t told them. It is an untold chapter in the story of our food.

But if consumers knew about it – even a little bit, they might start realizing the need for better rural internet.

I live in a diverse city, surrounded by tons of millennials who have little knowledge of modern agriculture and big ideas about ensuring their food is sustainable.

The modern-day consumer is just trying to do the right thing in a world where it’s sometimes easy, but usually really hard, to figure out what the right thing actually is.

Vertical farming is an easy sell as the right thing to do, in part because it’s simple to explain to the consumer.

The disruptive technology is helping reduce food waste from harvest or travel, and the companies making these automated growing systems boast of reducing the geographic footprint of farming, lowering labour costs and decreasing water usage.

Plus, reliable crop yields.

Urban consumers love this stuff.

It seems like the right thing to do and it’s easy enough to understand.

Trouble is there isn’t even close to enough vertical farming to feed the country – let alone the world. Consumers trying to find the right thing to do can’t rely on vertical farming to meet their demands.

Thankfully, farmers are trying to do the right thing, too.

They’re adopting precision agriculture tools to become more sustainable by using technology to manage inputs and reduce waste.

But to do so, they’ll need access to the internet.

If consumers understand the role internet access plays in the story of making their food sustainable, they will realize the right thing to do is to ensure farmers can have that access.

Rural communities alone don’t have enough political pull to convince wide-scale government investment in improving universal broadband services.

Canada’s major telecoms don’t have enough of a business incentive to take it upon themselves and improve services, either.

Governments seem unsure of where or how to build out networks in an affordable way and, despite making investments or commitments, appear to be hoping if they wait long enough, the private sector will figure it out for them.

One of those wait-and-see private sector plays is Elon Musk’s StarLink. The famed tech titan is planning to launch low-orbit satellites to bring internet to remote places. It is likely years away from being successful, despite its huge potential.

Regional investment strategies between the telecoms and industry have promise, but aren’t happening on a wide scale.

Farmers should include the way they are using technology, and their need for the internet to do so, with the story of the food they are producing for consumers.

In turn, consumers wanting to reduce the carbon intensity of their food should advocate for better rural internet.

If there is enough will among consumers – voters – then universal internet can become a reality.

About the author


D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.



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