The Senate Commerce Committee April 25 approved the “Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018,” as sponsored by Senators Roger Wicker, R-MS, and Amy Klobuchar, D-MN.

The bill would direct the Federal Communications Commission to establish a task force to identify gaps in broadband connectivity for the nation’s cropland and ranchland. The measure also instructs the agency to develop ways to help encourage broadband adoption and precision agriculture in areas where it is currently unavailable.

“Technology is helping American businesses be more e?cient, intelligent and cost-e?ective,” Wicker said. “Unfortunately, too many farmers and ranchers are unable to take advantage of advances in precision agriculture because rural areas lack adequate access to high-speed internet networks.

“Today, the commerce committee has taken a positive step toward solving this problem so that our nation’s farms and ranches can utilize these new technologies and provide quality products at the best prices to consumers around the world.

Klobuchar said, “We still have work to do to close the digital divide between rural and urban communities. In a 21st century economy that demands e?ciency, farmers and ranchers are too often unable to take advantage of new technologies due to limited broadband access. This bipartisan legislation will promote broadband deployment and precision agriculture technology to help Minnesota farmers streamline their operations, improve crop yields and boost their bottom line.”

Precision agriculture describes the use of mobile devices, robotics, ?eld sensors, remote monitoring and other technologies to manage agricultural production. Farmers and ranchers who use the technology can signi?cantly increase crop yields, streamline operations and reduce production expenses. In many areas of the United States, reliable, high-speed broadband is not consistently available to support precision agriculture operations.

Speci?cally, the legislation outlines these tasks for the new FCC task force:

Identify and measure current gaps in broadband coverage on cropland and ranchland;

Develop policy recommendations, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to promote the rapid, expanded deployment of ?xed and mobile broadband on cropland and ranchland, with the goal of achieving service on 95 percent of croplands and ranchlands in the U.S. by 2025;

Recommend speci?c steps the FCC should consider to ensure that available farm data from the USDA is re?ected in the development of future FCC programs dedicated to the deployment of broadband infrastructure to croplands and ranchlands; and

Develop a public report detailing the status of ?xed and mobile broadband coverage on croplands and ranchlands; the projected future connectivity needs of agricultural operations, farmers, and ranchers; and the steps being taken to accurately measure the availability of broadband on croplands and ranchlands and the limitations of current measurement processes.