How urgent is rural high-speed? As crucial as the power grid, these Huron County farmers say | CBC News

Farmers in Huron County are welcoming news that internet access to their region could soon be improving, but still want the provincial and federal governments to make rural connectivity a higher priority.

On July 14, Huron Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson announced a $1.4-million investment to bring high speed internet to residents and businesses in Huron County. Both the province and federal government are partnering with the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology project to bring connectivity to 720 residents in the region. 

“By continuing to build a new broadband infrastructure in Huron county, we’re helping strengthen our local rural community,” said Thompson in a press release statement. “This investment is helping to support the growing utilization of real-time data on farms and in our rural businesses.”

Ethan Wallace is a dairy and cash crop farmer based in Huron County who relies heavily on internet connectivity to run his business. His farm features remote controlled tractors that use GPS to ensure inch perfect accuracy when sowing seed or applying fertilizer.

Farmers on a South Huron farm use 'fit-bit' like devices to monitor and maintain the health of their cows.
Animal health is increasingly being monitored using ‘fit-bit’ like devices. (Submitted photo)

The cattle on his farm wear the animal equivalent of fitbits which monitor their health and relay valuable information about optimal feeding or milking times.

 “All that information is coming to my phone every second of everyday,” Wallace said. “So the internet is very key to what we do.”

LISTEN | Improved internet in Huron County could be a game changer for some farmers:

Afternoon Drive6:07Improved internet in Huron County could be a game changer for some farmers

People in Huron County could soon get an internet upgrade thanks to provincial funding. And that is good news for famers who use the internet for everything: from GPS controlled tractors, to animal fitbits. Host Allison Devereaux speaks with the Huron and Perth director for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Ethan Wallace.

Wallace, who is also the Huron and Perth director for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said the basic, old-school style of farming has given way to an approach that relies heavily on computing power and connectivity. Increasingly, farmers are running businesses that resemble tech companies more than agricultural ones. 

“It’s that old-adage of the hay feed farm boy right, they see the picture of the old red bank barn and that’s not what we are anymore,” Wallace said. “We are very much on the cutting edge of technology.”

High speed internet is a critical piece of infrastructure for farmers who use GPS-guided tractors to complete farm operations.
Modern tractors use GPS for navigation and accuracy when completing farm tasks. High speed and reliable connectivity is critical for their operations. (Submitted photo)

Some farms limited by lack of high-speed connection

Wallace currently has a 150 mbps fibre connection running to his farm, which makes his operation possible, but that connection is not readily available to everyone. Just a few kilometres down the road, his neighbour Mark Vogels operates a 100-acre cash crop farm, but is only able to access the internet using the cellular network in the area. This severely limits what Vogels can do on his farm. 

“If we had more access to it, we would have more access to things out in the field like GPS,” Vogels said. 

No timetable has been given for when the 720 Huron County residents can expect to see high speed internet access brought to their homes, and the CBC was not able to obtain a concrete plan for the rollout. 

Vogels said the $1.4 million in funding is a good start, but likely won’t be enough to meet the needs of everyone in Huron County. Wallace said the provincial and federal governments need to place the same emphasis on internet connectivity that they once did on expanding the electric grid to rural areas more than a century ago.

The Lely Astronaut is a milking machine that connects to a user's phone to rely critical operation information.
Milking machines like the Lely Astronaut rely heavily on internet connectivity to operate effectively. (Submitted photo)

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