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December 6, 2023
by Sherrie R. Whaley
BroadbandOhio has awarded $125,000 in grants to help establish high-speed internet connectivity to Ohio State University’s Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio.
The center is part of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and is home to the annual, three-day farm show, Farm Science Review, which drew almost 117,000 visitors in 2023.
The agricultural connectivity will ensure the center can be used as a demonstration area and proving ground for autonomous farming equipment, which promises increased efficiencies, reductions in environmental impacts and enhanced overall productivity in the agricultural sector.
“As we continue through the digital agricultural revolution, reliable broadband is critical,” says Cathann Kress, OSU vice president of agricultural administration and CFAES dean. “We are grateful to BroadbandOhio for this investment, which will amplify our college’s research and delivery of cutting-edge technologies and practices to Ohio’s producers and agribusinesses through OSU Extension,” which is CFAES’ statewide outreach arm.
At Farm Science Review, demonstrations showcased agricultural technology innovations such as a self-driving, self-steering autonomous tractor; spraying pesticides with a drone; a high-clearance robotic irrigation system; and wireless communications options for connecting these devices. Watch video about ag innovations at FSR and how CFAES students are learning to use them here.
According to BroadbandOhio, which is housed within the Ohio Department of Development, up to 1 million Ohioans do not have access to high-speed internet. Without this connectivity, the potential to use the latest agricultural technology is stifled.
“The collaboration between our team at BroadbandOhio and our partners at Molly Caren will propel Ohio into a new era of agricultural excellence,” says Lydia Mihalik, director of the BroadbandOhio Department of Development. “We are excited about the opportunities this will create for farmers, researchers and entrepreneurs alike, and are proud to be at the forefront of this transformative initiative to further cement Ohio as the heart of agriculture.”
The project is expected to generate valuable insights into the effectiveness of semi- and fully autonomous farming equipment that will help shape the future of agriculture. It also aims to serve as a model for other states, highlighting the potential.
At Farm Science Review, the BroadbandOhio team partnered with CFAES precision agriculture specialists to host a live demonstration of several pieces of precision farming technology benefiting from the connectivity: an unmanned Kubota M5 tractor and Great Plains Turbo Max tillage tool; a 360 Rain Crop irrigation system; and a “Connect CoW,” or Cell-on-Wheels, which is a mobile site that provides stable network coverage in areas traditionally lacking established access.
Broadband technology has been slow to reach America’s rural areas because those areas often don’t have enough potential subscribers to make it worth a private internet company’s investment in the needed infrastructure.
That’s where research universities and government initiatives such as BroadbandOhio can help, notes Doug Jackson-Smith, CFAES professor and W.K. Kellogg Foundation endowed chair in agricultural ecosystems management. Three years ago, he presented expert testimony in a hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Small Business’ Subcommittee on Innovation and Workforce Development.
Jackson-Smith said further legislation to expand broadband would make it possible for small farms and rural businesses to start using a range of new, agriculture-related technologies — helpful innovations in the areas of data management, precision agriculture, field-condition sensors, direct marketing and product tracking, among others.
That same year, Gov. Mike DeWine announced the creation of BroadbandOhio as the point of contact for all broadband projects in Ohio. The office identifies high-priority initiatives and works to implement the goals of the state in expanding access to Ohioans who have been left without access to the modern economy, education system and health care system because of their lack of high-speed connectivity.
Whaley is the media relations coordinator for OSU College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
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