Feed Bites

Connecting Rural America is the Key to Our Collective Future

Written by: Guest   |   June 26, 2020

Guest perspective, Supporting local communities, Coronavirus, Ensuring a stable food supply

Lisa Deverell
Senior Vice President, Feed Business to Business, Land O'Lakes

As a farmer-owned cooperative, Land O’Lakes sees firsthand the enormous strain the coronavirus pandemic has caused for communities across rural America, and for the agriculture industry that was already reeling from trade dynamics and poor growing conditions in 2019. Like everyone else, farmers and their rural neighbors have also grappled with the dramatic shift of carrying out everyday activities via online platforms due to COVID-19. Land O’Lakes sees first-hand how the digital divide (those that have high-speed internet access, commonly known as broadband, and those that don't) has only been further exacerbated by the pandemic, making it nearly impossible for rural residents to keep up with schoolwork, business and even doctors’ appointments.

The digital divide is unacceptable and unsustainable

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s most recent Broadband Progress Report, more than 18 million Americans lack access to broadband internet, and this dynamic is felt especially hard in rural areas, where one in four people lacks access to this critical service. From where we sit, strengthening connectivity and rural broadband access in rural America is critical for boosting on-farm sustainability; improving health outcomes; accessing distance learning and educational resources; exploring job opportunities; and even bringing a better understanding of where our food, fuel and fiber comes from.

Step-by-step, we can close the digital divide

That’s why we’re working tirelessly to bring attention to this issue among our business partners and state and federal government leaders, encouraging creative solutions from the private and public sectors. For example, we at Land O’Lakes have tapped into the power of our cooperative network and have stood up more than 150 free, temporary Wi-Fi locations for our neighbors in rural communities to stay connected. However, this is a temporary patch for a much larger issue. Solutions to the digital divide are needed for the communities that provide our safe and affordable food supply. 

Federal support is crucial to bridge the broadband gap

As such, we are working together across industries with companies such as Microsoft, Mayo Clinic, CoBank, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Avera Health, Bayer, and Cargill, among many others to advocate for public and private sector investment to permanently bring high-speed Internet access to rural areas. In April, Land O’Lakes, along with others, sent a letter to all 50 governors, asking for their support of the initiative and inviting them to leverage their own resources to add more Wi-Fi hotspot locations around their states. In addition, we asked states to support policies that would make telemedicine more accessible and affordable and urged their support of robust state and federal infrastructure investments to solve rural Internet connectivity challenges. Now is the time to take action and work hand-in-hand with governors to press Congress to develop a cohesive national strategy for closing America’s digital divide.

Join us in taking immediate action

There are ways members of the American Feed Industry Association can join our effort and make a difference in your own communities. Based on estimates we’ve seen, we believe bridging the digital divide will cost a national investment of $100 billion. We encourage all of you to call your representatives in Congress and tell them that the question isn’t how we can afford this, but rather how we can afford not to bring connection to America’s rural areas. Additionally, you can use the TestIT app to give policymakers a more accurate understanding of broadband gaps than what is currently available. And finally, if you are a business located in a rural area, consider joining us in opening up your guest Wi-Fi to your neighbors who may not have access.

Perhaps most importantly, technology has the capability to forge stronger connections between rural and urban America. We all have a shared destiny: rural and urban America cannot succeed without each other, and by extension without all of us reaping the benefits of the digital age. The time is now for our industry to rally together to close this critical divide. 

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Lisa leads Land O’Lakes, Inc.’s feed business-to-business portfolio, which includes the milk replacer, micro ingredient distribution & premix, ingredient merchandising and Lab Diet businesses. She came to Land O’Lakes in 2004 and worked in finance leadership roles for our dairy foods and agricultural services businesses before assuming her current role in 2013.

Before Land O’Lakes, Lisa held a variety of finance and strategy roles at International Multifoods and Pillsbury. Lisa holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Hamline University and a master’s degree in finance from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. She sat on the board of directors at Ecumen for 10 years. Lisa is passionate about developing women for leadership roles and is the executive sponsor of Land O’Lakes’ Women’s Leadership Network.

 

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