Farmers using new tech to improve soil health need internet. These ag organizations are working to get them connected

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News
Jordan Koehn of Sublette digs into the dirt on Nick Vos' farm during a No-Till on the Plains event.

BERRYTON  — By partnering with the Kansas Department of Transportation and a couple of soil health organizations, the Kansas Department of Agriculture can help farmers succeed.

Many locations throughout the state are broadband dead zones. For farmers and truckers to utilize new technology, they need internet connectivity, but bringing that technology to rural areas with low population centers is not economically feasible for many companies. 

That is where KDA and KDOT come in. The two organizations got together with two soil health organizations to make an incentive plan to bring broadband to central Kansas.

To be a part of the program, farmers must take steps toward creating healthy soil.

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"We know that carbon markets are a new outlet for agriculture producers, but they need broadband for that to happen," Lindsey Douglas said, deputy secretary at KDOT. "Let's leverage this public investment in broadband to open up connectivity and carbon markets for agriculture producers and provide a market for agriculture producers to participate."

This innovative, new pilot program, Heartland Opportunities, Markets and Environment will provide high-speed internet access to farms located along Preservation+ program routes on U.S. 83 and U.S. 81. Although this plan is targeted for this area initially, the area might expand in years to come.

"The purpose of choosing those corridors with broadband is we want to make sure these highways are on the priority freight movement," Douglas said.

Using soil health to increase water infiltration 

DeAnn Presley, Ph.D., a professor at Kansas State University explains to agronomists and farmers about 30,000-year-old soil that is located in the depths of Kansas cropland on Aug. 31, 2021 on Flickner Innovation Farm in McPherson County.

Kanas Soil Health Alliance and No-Till on the Plains are partnering with KDA and KDOT  to help farmers understand about regenerative farming and soil health.  

Farms located near the planned Preservation+ routes must implement soil health principles on at least one field in exchange for receiving high-speed internet access.

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Soil health initiatives include lowering the tilling of the farm, incorporating livestock and cover crops, and keeping a living root in the ground throughout the year. By doing this, farmers may possibly increase profitability, save water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Additionally, by ensuring a reliable high-speed connection, producers will be able to fully participate in potential carbon credit markets. 

"This will provide financial incentive… record keeping, soil sampling for three years," Andrew Lyon said, executive director of conservation at KDA-DOC. "Data (is essential) to prove that credits were generated."

Fiber optics can save costs, increase high-speed internet access 

Fiber optic cable is needed to carry information to message boards across the state. Through KDOT’s new Preservation+ program, private internet service providers can install fiber optic cable concurrently with KDOT.  By partnering on the installation of fiber, ISPs can save costs and increase high-speed internet access across rural areas.

More:A no-till event focuses on using soil-health practices in western Kansas

A workshop to learn more about the program will take place at 9 a.m. Sept. 8 at the Cloud County Fairgrounds Commercial Building in Concordia. Kansans interested in participating should register at No Till on the Plains or Kansas Soil Health Alliance.  This event is free and available to participants statewide. 

"You can build soil health without that connectivity, but it is very helpful to have that broadband access," Lyon said. "We've had GPS for some time now, but we're finding more and more that this also needs the computational power."