Officials assess wildfires’ toll on agriculture – from Ag Alert

By Kevin Hecteman, Ag Alert / California Farm Bureau Federation

As the Ranch Fire became California’s largest-ever wildfire during the past weekend, the county where it’s doing the most damage—Lake—continued assessing the toll on local farmers and ranchers.

Keith Brandt, compliance and safety manager at Bella Vista Farming in Kelseyville and president of the Lake County Farm Bureau, said he’s aware of damage to vineyards in the areas of Upper Lake, Clover Valley, New Long Valley and High Valley.

“Damage due to smoke remains a concern, and many growers are assessing vineyard conditions and the appropriate next steps as warranted,” Brandt said by email.

He added that pear harvest is in full swing and should be completed within the next two to three weeks.

The Ranch and River fires, together called the Mendocino Complex by Cal Fire, combined to become the largest wildfire in recorded state history last week, and on Sunday the Ranch Fire, by itself, surpassed the 281,893 acres burned by the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties last December and January.

Steven Hajik, Lake County agricultural commissioner, said his early estimates show damage to 3.5 acres of pears, 10 acres of grapes and 15 acres of walnuts. Hajik emphasized that these early estimates are subject to change, although the fires were moving away from production areas.

“I’ve seen burned-up orchards and I’ve seen singed orchards,” he said. “I’ve seen singed grapes and burned-up grapes, same with pears.”

In addition to smoke concerns for winegrape growers, “we have a lot of young plantings of grapes,” Hajik said. “Some of the people could not get in to their properties to properly water them.”

The largest Lake County impact by far is to rangeland, Hajik said, with 45,000 acres affected. He also estimated 2,000 acres of timber production were damaged, “but that’s probably on the low side.”

To the west, Devon Jones, executive director of the Mendocino County Farm Bureau, said she’s working with the local U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency office to map properties within the fire perimeter, and reach out to the owners to assess the impact of the fire and the needs of residents.

“We’ve lost a lot of feed, and so there might be a need of trying to coordinate some sort of effort on helping with hay,” Jones said, noting that livestock operations had taken the brunt of the fire damage but others had also been affected.

“There were some blocks of grapes that were in the fire footprint, but the couple members that I talked to that had irrigation had the sprinklers running, and that really minimized impacts to that vineyard area,” she said.

Elsewhere in California, two federal Cabinet secretaries—Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke—visited Shasta County, where the Carr Fire had damaged more than 200,000 acres.

In Orange and Riverside counties, the Holy Fire, which started Aug. 6, had caused no reported damage to agriculture, according to the Orange County Farm Bureau and the Orange County agricultural commissioner’s office.

“From what I know of the fire location, it’s mostly been centered up in some of the foothills where, historically, there used to be a fair bit of grazing, but all the grazing has been phased out,” said Casey Anderson, executive director of the Orange County Farm Bureau. “A lot of the agriculture production is centered down in the valleys and along the transportation corridors here through Orange County.”

Farmers and ranchers who need assistance with wildfire damage and loss can find information and links to disaster-relief programs at www.cfbf.com/wildfireaid.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Street tree changes needed to adapt to climate

From Morning Ag Clips

Many common street trees now growing in the interior of California are unlikely to persist in the warmer climate expected in 2099, according to research published in the July 2018 issue of the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.

“Urban foresters in inland cities of California should begin reconsidering their palettes of common street trees to prepare for warmer conditions expected in 2099 due to climate change,” said the study’s co-author, Igor Lacan, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor in the Bay Area.

Common trees in Coastal California cities appear to be better suited to withstand the 2099 climate.

“Our research shows that some trees now lining the streets of cities like Fresno, Stockton and Ukiah are likely to perform poorly in 2099,” Lacan said. “Those cities need to look at the conditions – and trees – now found in El Centro, Barstow and Fresno respectively.”

To reach these conclusions, Lacan and co-author, professor Joe McBride of UC Berkeley, used space-for-time substitution. They compared the most common street tree species in cities representing each of the 16 California climate zones with trees in cities that currently have climates that approximate the expected warmer conditions in the 16 cities 80 years from now.

For example, Eureka can expect a climate like Berkeley’s today; Fresno’s climate will resemble the climate of El Centro today. (Find the complete list of cities below.) The corresponding cities were determined with climate predictions from Cal-Adapt, which synthesizes California climate change scenarios to reach a consensus view of the magnitude of climatic warming.

“We used the mid-range models,” Lacan said. “It’s very reasonable to say the warming predicted by the model we used is already ‘baked in,’ regardless of any mitigation efforts. While we should take measures to prevent even greater warming – mostly by reducing the use of fossil fuels – this study aims to help adapt California urban forests to the warming that can be reasonably expected to occur.”

Lacan said he and McBride were surprised to find that coastal cities and their warm equivalents contain most of the same common urban tree species, while the warm equivalents of inland cities seemed to lack most and, in some cases, all of the common trees there today.

“It’s really a sharp distinction,” Lacan said. “Perhaps they were lucky, but coastal cities are better positioned for the climate of 2099 than the inland cities.”

Link to story

Posted in Climate Change | Leave a comment

California groundwater law means changes above ground, too – from KQED

By Matt Weiser, Water Deeply

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), adopted in 2014, will change more than groundwater. The requirement to end overdraft will also transform land use, a massive side effect yet to be widely recognized.

Parts of California will literally look different once the law takes full effect. It could put some farmers out of business. It could change how others farm.

In some areas, farms will have to be fallowed to reduce groundwater demand. That idled farmland will have lots of important new uses. Some could become wildlife habitat or groundwater recharge basins. Others could be useful for solar energy development and other semi-industrial uses. Undoubtedly, some will become housing subdivisions.

City and county government leaders are starting to realize there’s a lot at stake. The landscape itself will change as groundwater extraction changes. Without careful planning, property tax revenues that fund a wide variety of essential government services could be compromised.

“I don’t believe it is a groundwater law. I believe it’s a land use law,” said Lorelei Oviatt, director of planning and natural resources in Kern County, the southernmost county in California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley. “In my mind, SGMA has actually opened up doors for new technology – new ways of looking at how we use our land.”

Kern County was the most productive farming county in the state last year in the nation’s most productive farming region. The total value of its agricultural production was $7.2 billion in 2017. Lots of that success was built on groundwater overdraft – which must soon end.

But Kern County isn’t alone. Many other California counties are in the same situation. All but three of the 14 groundwater basins in the San Joaquin Valley are ranked as critically overdrafted. Ten others, mostly along the Central Coast, are also critically overdrafted. Several dozen more throughout the state are ranked as high or medium priority, which also face deadlines to bring their aquifers into balance, meaning extraction and replenishment are equalized.

Kern County was the most productive farming county in the state last year in the nation’s most productive farming region. The total value of its agricultural production was $7.2 billion in 2017. Lots of that success was built on groundwater overdraft – which must soon end.

But Kern County isn’t alone. Many other California counties are in the same situation. All but three of the 14 groundwater basins in the San Joaquin Valley are ranked as critically overdrafted. Ten others, mostly along the Central Coast, are also critically overdrafted. Several dozen more throughout the state are ranked as high or medium priority, which also face deadlines to bring their aquifers into balance, meaning extraction and replenishment are equalized.

Protecting recharge zones from urbanization will become a new focus of growth management, but it can’t be the only focus. In areas like the San Joaquin Valley, there is not a lot of surface water available for recharge because most of it is diverted from Northern California and already in high demand.

That leaves storm runoff as the main recharge option, and many areas of the San Joaquin Valley are well suited to that: The valley was a giant floodplain, after all, before it was developed for farming.

But storm runoff is not available in all years. In addition, as the PPIC notes in a recent report, most available storm runoff occurs in the north part of the San Joaquin Valley, while the best recharge lands are in the south. Hence, new infrastructure will be needed to channel flood flows to basins where it can be recharged.

“At best, you can probably meet up to a quarter of the deficit with additional recharge,” Hanak said. “That means you’ve still got a big gap to fill. So there’s a growing recognition that this is going to mean some land coming out of production in the valley.”

She estimates 10–12 percent of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley will have to be fallowed as a conservation measure to reduce demand on groundwater. That doesn’t sound like a lot. But it amounts to about 600,000 acres – roughly equal to seven cities the size of Fresno.

How all that land gets reused is a huge issue for the region.

A lot of good farmland is also suitable for groundwater recharge, and the two are not incompatible. University of California research found that 3.6 million acres of crops in the state may be suitable for recharge. At the right time and in the right quantities, shallow flooding works on crops as diverse as alfalfa, wine grapes and almonds.

Kara Heckert, state director of the American Farmland Trust, said it is important to make sure the most productive farmland is spared from fallowing. The nonprofit recently published a report that found 323,000 acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley could be lost to development by 2050 as suburban sprawl creeps out from cities like Lodi, Manteca, Hanford and Bakersfield. About half of that acreage is considered high-value farmland.

The message is that cities, counties, farmers and groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) need to work together in new ways.

“Land quality across the San Joaquin Valley should be a consideration used by [GSAs] when they are determining groundwater allocations within their districts,” said Heckert. “Ensuring the best agricultural land continues to receive adequate groundwater supply will help maintain California’s agricultural production and natural heritage.”

Hanak said governments could offer a variety of incentives to derive the most benefit from farmland retirement. Grants and tax breaks, for instance, could encourage fallowing in certain areas to create new wildlife refuge areas or to expand existing refuges.

Less productive farmland near utility corridors could be rezoned for alternative energy development. This would encourage crop fallowing to cut groundwater use while also boosting property taxes collected on these lands.

If farmland is simply fallowed and left bare, Oviatt said, local property taxes will suffer.

“It can’t just all become open space,” she said. “Open space doesn’t pay enough property taxes to keep our sheriff and our parks and libraries alive. As a land use planner, I believe it’s my responsibility to make sure this works for everyone.”

Oviatt noted that local governments face a conflict in planning their growth. State laws encourage them to both conserve water and build more homes to address the housing affordability crisis in California. Those goals are in conflict, especially in a region like the San Joaquin Valley, where many local communities rely on groundwater, and SGMA will make that groundwater harder to come by.

“We are not having a big enough dialogue about how the new water rules fit in with this whole idea of building more houses,” she said.

One strategy, she said, would be to require all new homes to include on-site gray-water recycling. Another is a water trading scheme for residential development. Kern County already does this in the Tehachapi area, a mountainous community east of Bakersfield that relies on sparse groundwater.

A developer who wants to build a 50-home subdivision in Tehachapi can buy the water he needs from other unbuilt lots in the region, if he can find willing sellers. The process concentrates both the water use and the housing development. Something similar could work throughout the San Joaquin Valley to control where development occurs and where groundwater gets pumped.

“We need more tools in this new water world we’re in,” Oviatt said.

SGMA has been criticized for its distant deadlines, because hundreds of new wells are being drilled in the meantime, putting additional strain on groundwater. But it may turn out to be a good thing that this law creeps along like a wagon train. It will take years to manage all the land use changes that will accompany changes in groundwater use.

“I don’t think anybody is under the illusion that it’s all going to work perfectly,” said Hanak. “The good thing about this is, it’s not an overnight thing that’s going to happen. It’s something that people will have some time to plan for.”

Link to story

Posted in Drought | Leave a comment

Winners named in apple-picking robot competition; California schools show well

From Morning Ag Clips

DETROIT — China Agricultural University (CAU) took home top honors in the 2018 ASABE Robotics Student Design Competition, held July 31 in Detroit. CAU teams won in both the advanced and beginner divisions.

Among the advanced teams, the University of Georgia, University of Florida and UC Davis finished second, third and fourth, respectively. Zhejiang University and Clemson University claimed those runner-up spots among the beginner teams. The beginners’ race was especially tight, with the top two teams achieving perfect scores. CAU used speed to edged out Zhejiang, completing the required technical task one second faster than Zhejiang. Teams from Cal Poly (6th place) and UC Merced (7th place) also competed on the beginners board.

“All the teams incorporated innovative solutions in their robot designs,” says ASABE member Alireza Pourreza, University of California Cooperative Extension agricultural mechanization specialist, who coordinated the 2018 event.

This year’s challenge involved identification, sorting, and harvesting of apples. The robots were required to autonomously harvest “apples” on a field measuring 8 feet by 8 feet. The robots identified and selected eight mature apples (red ping-pong balls), removed and disposed of eight diseased or rotten apples (blue ping-pong balls) and left eight immature apples (green ping-pong balls) on the tree.

“China Agricultural University’s Dream team presents one of the more prodigious designs in competition, covering two lanes at once and picking apples flawlessly,” tweeted Michael Gutierrez, a University of Florida Extension water specialist.

“The increasing interest in the ASABE robotics competition every year reflects a global response to the need of automation and robotics in agriculture,” explains Pourreza, who is based at UC Davis. “We aim to motivate young agricultural engineers to engage more with robotics and acquire an early-career experience that will prepare them for the future of agriculture and smart farming.”

Fifteen university teams from the U.S., Canada and China competed in this year’s contest. Sponsored by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, the ASABE Robotics Student Design Competition allows undergraduate and graduate students to develop skills in robotic systems, electronics and sensing technologies by simulating a robotics solution to a common agricultural process.

Founded in 1907, ASABE is an international scientific and educational organization dedicated to the advancement of engineering applicable to agricultural, food and biological systems.

MORE INFORMATION: 2018 ASABE robotics competition website: https://www.asabe.org/Awards-Competitions/Student-Awards-Competitions-Scholarships/Robotics-Student-Design-Competition

Link to story

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Secretary Ross discusses importance of upcoming Global Climate Action Summit and Sustainability Roadmap

Secretary Ross at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross joined other participants yesterday at AT&T Park in San Francisco to brief reporters on next month’s Global Climate Action Summit, and to release a Sustainability Roadmap for the event. The Roadmap lays out a plan to reduce the environmental impact of the Summit event, and to build a legacy of sustainability at event venues throughout the city of San Francisco and for future global conferences.

In addition to transit and energy goals, the Summit will source at least 75 percent of food for the event from within 200 miles of San Francisco, and it will target an 85 percent diversion of event-related waste from landfills. The diversions will include food recovery and composting, which ties into CDFA’s work in healthy soils to store carbon. These steps also help with drought resiliency and addressing food security for a fast growing world population in a changing climate. The Roadmap was modeled after the Sustainability Roadmap for the London 2012 Olympics, and this one goes a step further by adding a metrics and accountability platform. It will be a model for future global events.

The Global Climate Action Summit will bring people together from around the world to discuss the extraordinary commitments of states, regions, cities, companies, investors and citizens with respect to climate action.

In her remarks yesterday, Secretary Ross noted the great benefit of hosting the Summit in California, the leading agricultural state in nation with a remarkable bounty of diverse and nutritious food that helps to feed the world and is reliant upon effective climate action steps. The Summit is scheduled from September 12-September 14 in San Francisco.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

California joins nation in celebrating National Farmers Market Week

The USDA has designated the week of August 5-11 as National Farmers Market Week. California leads the nation with nearly 800 certified farmers markets – sales venues for certified agricultural producers selling healthy and high-quality produce directly to consumers.

Until 1977, state regulations required farmers to properly pack, size and label their fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables in standard containers to transport and sell anywhere other than the farm-site. Recognizing the importance of farmer-to-consumer sales, California’s Certified Farmers Market program was created. These markets are now part of the fabric of many communities throughout the state. Here’s how to find one near you.

Certified farmers markets are an important source of fresh produce to many seniors and low-income families who can purchase fruits and vegetables through the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program; the Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program; and the CalFresh program.

Both the number and size of farmers markets in across the country have grown over the years, leading the USDA to dedicate a week each year to recognize them. This is the 19th annual National Farmers Market Week. California joins the nation in celebrating this direct pathway for healthy, nutritious food.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

CDFA working with DWR on emerging groundwater recharge strategy

Photo from the Sacramento Bee.

Later this month the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is hosting a public workshop on Flood-MAR, an emerging water management strategy that could improve water-resources sustainability throughout the state.

At CDFA, Dr. Amrith Gunasekara, Science Advisor to the Secretary and a member of the Flood-MAR Research Advisory Committee, and Josh Eddy, Executive Director of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture are working closely with DWR on this. The Board recently held a forum on managed aquifer recharge in California agriculture and put forth several recommendations.

Flood-MAR is an integrated and voluntary resource management strategy that uses flood water resulting from rainfall or snow melt for managed aquifer recharge (MAR) on agricultural lands and working landscapes, including but not limited to refuges, floodplains, and flood bypasses.

Large-scale implementation of Flood-MAR will require robust public-private partnerships, landowner participation, and the use of agricultural lands and working landscapes as effective and essential pathways for groundwater recharge and aquifer replenishment.

Workshop participants will be asked to provide input on current activities related to Flood-MAR. The workshop includes online or in-room participation options. The in-room option will take place in the Hearing Room at the Bonderson Building, 901 P Street, Sacramento. Register for the webinar at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5272623740815701250.

Start: Thurs 30 Aug 2018, 1:30 PM

End: Thurs 30 Aug 2018, 4:30 PM

Hearing Room, Bonderson Building, 901 P Street, Sacramento CA 95814

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From the Growing California video series – Farm to Folks

Here is an encore presentation from CDFA’s award-winning Growing California video series: “Farm to Folks,” a look at California’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Vertical farms supersize their ambitions – from GreenBiz

By Ucilia Wang

After witnessing a crop of failures that struggled with money and scale, the indoor farming business is picking up momentum in a bid to better compete against traditional farms in freshness and yields while avoiding forces of nature, from pests to drought.

Recent announcements by several indoor farming startups reflect this ambition. California-based Crop One just announced a $40 million joint venture with Emirates Flight Catering to build one of the largest vertical farms in the world. The new farm, set to be completed in December 2019, would rise up in Dubai and harvest 6,000 pounds of leafy greens per day.

The project is a major coup for Crop One, which is running one farm near Boston and selling its harvest to markets and other retailers locally through its brand FreshBox Farms. The joint venture also gives the venture-funded company a chance to show it can scale up and serve customers beyond markets and restaurants, the two common outlets for indoor farms.

“The food service industry is attractive because they have very high, fixed volumes, but they demand lower prices. You need a cost structure that can serve that market profitably,” said Sonia Lo, CEO of Crop One, which also plans to build a farm in Connecticut and another in Texas this year. “There are plenty of vertical farms that are venture-financed where profitability is not a goal. They want market size and proof of science.”

Lo’s competitors are scaling up, too. Oasis Biotech, backed with a $30 million investment to date from Sananbio, a joint venture between Chinese LED maker Sanan Group and the Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, held a grand opening of its farm in Las Vegas last week. Oasis plans to deliver later this month to its first customer, local produce distributor Get Fresh.

Oasis is building the production capacity of its vertical farm in two phases. The first, completed phase allows the company to produce 1,500 pounds of leafy greens per day, said Brock Leach, Oasis’s chief operating officer. When the second phase is done, the farm will boost its daily yields to 6,000 pounds.

“At Oasis, we want to feed the world and do better,” Leach said. “With an increasing population and decreasing in agricultural production, we are heading to a dark place in the future unless we can change course and increase production.”

Oasis doesn’t only want to be a grower. Its business model includes selling equipment for vertical farming and designing and building indoor farms for others, Leach said.

Crop One and Oasis Biotech are part of a new batch of tech-savvy companies that emerged within the past decade to build indoor farms near big cities and deliver fresher and pesticide-free produce, typically highly perishable and high-value leafy greens, such as arugula and baby kale, to markets and restaurants. Lo noted that lettuce, which is otherwise grown mostly in Arizona and California, may have aged by two weeks between its harvest and appearance on your plate in New York City.

Indoor farm designs range from a farm-in-a-box that fits inside a restaurant or grocery store, such as the one marketed by such as Farmery, to larger operations pursued by the likes of Crop One and Oasis.

Growing produce indoors is nothing new, of course. A greenhouse is an old concept that brings crops into an enclosure but retains some key characteristics of field farming, such as the reliance on sunlight and soil, although some are using nutrient mixtures instead of soil to cut water use. This space is attracting newcomers, too. BrightFarms, a 7-year-old New York company, just raised $55 million from investors such as NGEN Partners to build more greenhouses across the country.

A newer bundle of indoor farms starting to attract big-name investors is forgoing soil and sunlight altogether, relying instead on advanced lighting technology that lasts longer and is more tunable to different light spectrums for creating optimal conditions for different plants.

NASA claims to be the first organization to use LED light for growing vegetables indoors, back in the 1980s. Improvements in LED technology and price in the past decade prompted the growth spurt in indoor farming. The use of artificial lighting also allows growers to stack planters. Vertical farms tend to have more electromechanical equipment and software to insulate them from the outside world than greenhouses do, further reducing pests and diseases, said Neil Mattson, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University.

Indoor farm executives like to highlight their efficient use of land and water to grow vegetables without soil, using 99 percent less water than the same acreage equivalent of field farms. But installing and running an LED light system — and for some farms, sensors and infrared cameras and automated equipment — means a high startup and operational costs when compared to conventional farming, Mattson said. Labor cost also can be significant.

Some vertical farms, such as PodPonics and FarmedHere, have shuttered because they couldn’t drive down costs or raise money quickly enough.

“The vertical farming industry in its current version is only about six years old, and people are leveraging experiences from other industries,” said Lo, a longtime tech investor and executive before coming to Crop One, initially as an investor and now its chief executive. “A lot of founders getting into this industry not appreciating the capital intensity and the need to have a sophisticated financial and operational skills.”

This new agricultural sector continues to attract investments. The poster child of this phenomenon is the South San Francisco-based Plenty, which raised $200 million Softbank Group and investment firms backed by Jeff Bezos and Eric Schmidt last year.

The four-year-old startup wants to plant its vertical farms near big cities around the world and is already making moves do that in Japan and China. Middle East is also another potential target. Its CEO, Matt Barnard, told Reuters earlier this year that each farm will run from three to 10 acres.

Other venture-funded startups include Bowery, whose investors include Google Ventures, and AeroFarms.

Water scarcity and the shortage of arable land certainly makes the Middle East a hotspot for indoor farming. The promise of a secured food supply and pesticide-free leafy greens is what prompted Emirates Flight Catering to invest its first vertical farm, the joint venture with Crop One, said Saeed Mohammed, the company CEO, via email.

The catering company, majority owned by the Emirates airline, also serves 105 other airlines that fly out of the Dubai International Airport. The new farm will allow the food service company to bring leafy greens from farm to fork within 24 hours, Mohammed said. It also enables the company to claim a lighter carbon footprint with its supply chain, he added.

The $40 million joint venture, split 60 percent-to-40-percent between Emirates and Crop One, won’t be the last vertical farm for the catering firm.

“There are plans to extend our facilities across the UAE and into other geographies,” Mohammed said. “There are already a number of ongoing discussions, but it is too early to confirm anything further at this point.”

Link to story

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

USDA seeking comments on rural broadband initiative

USDA is inviting comments on the implementation of the e-Connectivity Pilot Program established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 on March 23, 2018.
USDA is developing this pilot program to catalyze private investment and bring broadband to unserved rural areas of the country. The new program provides a unique opportunity to develop modern methods to leverage federal funds to increase private investment in broadband services for as many rural American homes, businesses, farms, schools and health care facilities as possible.

According to a 2018 report by the Federal Communications Commission, 80 percent of the 24 million American households that do not have reliable, affordable, high-speed internet are in rural areas. Without e-Connectivity, rural Americans cannot reach their full productivity in the workplace, receive the best education in schools nor the finest health care in hospitals.

This rural broadband pilot program was proposed by President Trump and was made possible by a $600 million appropriation from Congress in the Consolidated Budget Act of 2018. As a result, USDA is excited to be able to create new funding and finance offerings through this pilot program to expand rural broadband in underserved rural and tribal areas.

The framework outlined by Congress allows these new federal funds to be deployed in rural areas with a population of 20,000 or less. A wide variety of entities is eligible for funding, including incumbent and competitive rural telephone and broadband service providers, rural electric cooperatives, private firms (but not sole proprietors or partnerships), nonprofits and governmental bodies. Rural areas with current internet service speeds of 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload at the household will be eligible to apply for the pilot program funds. The requirements on build-out speeds are not specified by the law and are therefore under development. See page 52 of the legislation for the full text (PDF, 2 MB).

USDA is seeking input as it develops the rules and requirements of the e-Connectivity Pilot Program. All stakeholders with an interest in rural broadband deployment are welcome to contribute. Specifically, comments on the following issues are sought:

  1. Ways of evaluating a rural household’s “sufficient access” to broadband e-Connectivity at speeds of 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream, and how broadband service affordability should be factored in.
  2. Best options to verify speeds of broadband service provided to rural households.
  3. Best leading indicators of the potential project benefits for rural industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, e-commerce, transportation, health care and education, using readily available public data.

USDA’s goal is to make the most effective use of these new and innovative funds through utility partnerships, where possible. Public input on methods to evaluate the viability of applications that include local utility partnership arrangements is also being sought.

Comments are due on or before 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 and can be submitted by either of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to www.regulations.gov and, in the lower “Search Regulations and Federal Actions” box, select “Rural Utilities Service” from the agency drop-down menu, then click “Submit.” In the Docket ID column, select RUS-18-TELECOM-0004 to submit or view public comments and to view supporting and related materials available electronically.
  • Postal Mail/Commercial Delivery: Please send your comments to Michele Brooks, Rural Development Innovation Center, Regulations Team Lead, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Stop 1522, Room 1562, Washington, DC 20250. Please state that your comments refer to Docket No. RUS-18-TELECOM-0004.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment