Rural America Matters

Rural America Matters

America Depends on its Rural Communities
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America Depends on its Rural Communities via @farmcredit

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Sarah Tyree, Vice President, Government Affairs, CoBank

Monday, February 23, 2015 - 1:05pm

CAMPAIGN: The AGgregator


By Sarah Tyree, Vice President, Government Affairs, CoBank

Sarah Tyree provides a seasoned perspective on issues affecting rural America with more than 24 years of experience in rural development policy for state and federal governments and the biotechnology industry, as well as in domestic and international agriculture.

We are kicking off a new AGgregator blog series, Rural America Matters, which will explore the issues and challenges of delivering rural infrastructure services to our nation’s food producers and their communities, from the upgrade of communications networks to deliver current technology, to the increasing use of renewable energy, and the importance of water supply to rural economic development. It’s called Rural America Matters for two reasons – access to quality infrastructure services matters to our rural communities, and whether we know it or not, our rural communities matter to every one of us.

More than 98 percent of Americans live in urban and suburban areas, working in offices and homes, manufacturing and retail, food service and education. One thing every one of these nearly 313 million people have in common is that they all need to eat, and the food they eat comes through the efforts of the small number – 2.1 million – of Americans who live in rural areas and work every day to raise the crops and livestock on which we all rely. 

Over time, the number of farmers and ranchers is decreasing and the average age of these agricultural producers is rising, bringing us ever closer to wide scale retirement. Who will grow our food then is a question being asked with concern by policy makers and industry groups. Attracting the next generation of producers, whether they are following in their parents’ footsteps or just entering the agricultural arena, will be critical to our continued food supply.

Ensuring that rural areas offer the same basic services as other locales enjoy is critical to attracting the next generation of agricultural producers –  things like broadband internet and mobile phone service, affordable electricity, and community services like schools and hospitals that depend on a consistent supply of clean water, aren’t amenities, they’re necessities. These services, particularly telecommunications, are depended on where they’re available even today – farmers use smartphone technology to manage their livestock operations, GPS to efficiently plant their crops and nurture their land, and broadband internet to shop for and order their critical supplies.

The utility infrastructure to support these services is more difficult and significantly more expensive to build in rural areas than in urban. For example, running fiber-to-the-home in a city can reach hundreds of families in one large housing complex, while providing the same access in a rural area can require miles of fiber to reach a single home.

Yet companies both large and small are taking on the challenge of proving service to rural America, in some cases supported with government programs that recognize the importance of providing services to our rural citizens. In many cases these companies are supported with financing from the Farm Credit System, whose mission is to provide a reliable source of financing to agriculture and rural America, including the increasingly important rural infrastructure sector.