Rural broadband phone winter phone in field

Better technology can open a variety of doors, including better farm and business management with improved access to information.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — On Jan. 28, the USDA announced it was awarding $60.9 million for high-speed broadband internet infrastructure to improve connectivity in rural Missouri for more than 11,000 rural households, 81 farms, 73 businesses, 16 educational facilities and two health care facilities.

The grant money is part of the USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program, which invests in improving rural broadband. In addition, in November the program awarded $41.6 million to a Missouri company for broadband projects in rural northern Missouri and southern Iowa.

That project will include deploying a fiber network to increase connectivity for 2,288 households, 17 businesses and 39 farms.

The Jan. 28 grant announcement includes investments in the Trenton area, rural Greene County, several counties in south central Missouri, rural Caldwell and Livingston counties and rural Saline County.

Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn says better technology can open a variety of doors, including better farm and business management with improved access to information. She says Missouri’s office of rural broadband helped the state secure a large portion of the money available for rural broadband improvement through the farm bill.

“Missouri received over $100 million of the $600 million (in rural broadband funding) in the farm bill,” Chinn says. “Missouri did very well in that, and the reason they did is because we have an office of rural broadband.”

Chinn says laying more fiber lines will allow for more cell towers being built, meaning better signal in the state’s rural areas.

The state also allocated $5 million in funding for its rural broadband office. Chinn says the state will need more money to fully address the rural broadband situation, but every allocation helps.

“Every little bit of money we get in our rural communities will help us,” she says.

Chinn says farmers need broadband Internet access to compete and take full advantage of the technology available in agriculture. It could also be helpful as farm families look to the next generation.

“We also know you need it to bring that next generation back to our rural communities and farms and ranches,” she says.

Richard Fordyce, a Harrison County, Missouri, farmer who serves as administrator of the Farm Service Agency, says the rural broadband investments are crucial for agriculture.

“In Missouri and across the country, technology and innovation are vital to agricultural production,” Fordyce said in a news release. “Our commitment to invest in rural America cannot be achieved without addressing the digital divide our rural communities face because of a lack of high-speed broadband internet.”

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.