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Missouri Farm Bureau president testifies before Congress on rural broadband

Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins testified before a congressional subcommittee this week to advocate for greater access to affordable broadband, particularly in rural communities. 

“America’s farmers and ranchers embrace technology that allows their farming businesses to be more efficient, economical, and environmentally responsible,” Hawkins told lawmakers. “Today’s farmers and ranchers are using precision agricultural techniques to make decisions that impact the amount of fertilizer they need to purchase and apply to their fields, the amount of water needed to sustain crops, and the amount and type of herbicides or pesticides needed.” 

Appearing virtually before the House Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Wednesday afternoon, Hawkins pointed to four principles: ensuring data accuracy and mapping; planning for the future; fostering local, state, and federal partnerships; and focusing on precision agriculture. 

Hawkins advocated for additional mapping to determine which areas should be eligible for federal and state funds and consideration of speeds to address educational and teleworking needs. He also emphasized the importance of local, state, and federal partnerships. 

Hawkins recalled driving with a farmer in southern Missouri last month when they were slowed by construction work. A fiber-optic cable was stretched across the road, and the farmer said, “Maybe they’ll come my way in just a year or so.” 

Hawkins said there is “good news” in Missouri when it comes to broadband access. The state created the Office of Broadband under the Department of Economic Development, and the Federal Communications Commission has awarded grants

The challenge now, Hawkins said, is accountability. 

“There are more dollars that are coming, and it’s up to us to make sure that there’s accountability and that we’re working hard at the national level to increase [accuracy],” Hawkins told The Missouri Times following his testimony. “We have to make sure we’re deploying as quickly as possible, and we’re delivering speeds that are necessary not just for recreation but for actual business. And ultimately planning for the future with whatever is put in place.” 

Hawkins testified on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation at the request by the ranking members of the committee led by Missouri Congressman Sam Graves. The hearing was regarding the reauthorization of the Economic Development Administration.