Essential Elements for the Future of the San Joaquin Valley

On November 8th, Valley Vision had the opportunity to participate in West Hills Community College’s Essential Elements for the Future of San Joaquin Valley conference. This year’s conference brought together experts and practitioners in agriculture technologies, broadband policies, and rural broadband needs to begin planning a large-scale broadband pilot focused on agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley. I presented the work in which Valley Vision has been engaged related to this effort, the AgTech Pilot.

Crop production is worth $45.3 billion in California, and $2.1 billion in the six-county Sacramento region. The economic impact of the whole sector is $7.4 billion in the six-county region. To stay competitive, agriculturalists must be able to take advantage of the wide range of new internet or cloud-based technologies available. However, most rural areas have limited or no access to broadband coverage. According to Brookings, across the country 39% of rural populations lack FCC-defined broadband access compared to just 4% in urban areas. (Remember the last time you were driving along the freeway and lost your call as you went through a “dead zone”? Imagine if you lived and worked in that dead zone.) According to a survey of growers in Yolo County, conducted through the AgTech Pilot, 27% of growers had no broadband access. Of the 73% who had some coverage, many were using mobile hotspots they had created themselves, and none had 100% coverage on all of their fields.

Rural broadband doesn’t just affect agriculture – it affects students doing homework, standardized testing, and other aspects of their education; parents and others who need to use telemedicine; anyone who needs to access and file a government form for business or personal reasons; and more. But none of those are direct economic drivers, so it is easiest to talk about the need for rural broadband through the lens of agriculture.

Other projects and organizations are working to develop data that will help find solutions to this problem. CSU Fresno Office of Community and Economic Development is leading a partner project to Valley Vision’s project, and the SF Bay Chapter of the Internet Society funded CSU Chico Geographic Information Center to test and map broadband coverage across Yolo County for broadband. The GIC tested 155 sites, and followed up with deeper testing on several.

Stay tuned for reports coming out for all of these projects and for the development of the large-scale broadband pilot out of West Hills. Change happens after a problem is brought to light and leaders (from all areas and scales) begin to talk about it, plan, and then take action. Valley Vision is glad to be an engaged participant in the conversation and an actor working to solve this problem.

Our rural communities need our support.

Robyn Krock is a Project Leader managing Valley Vision’s food and agriculture portfolio.

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