The Impact of 5G on the Future of Farming

5G is likely to revolutionize the farming industry, thanks to increased speed and the ability to carry more data. 

Farmers are traditionally slow to adopt new technologies. However, over the past decade, many farms started implementing modern solutions that rely on wireless data networks.

Sensors and monitors help keep an eye on crops and livestock, increasing efficiency and assisting with daily tasks. By 2015, about 29% of farmers had wireless access.

Unfortunately, the current wireless networks cannot always handle the data loads needed for Wi-Fi-connected farm equipment.

5G should give the agricultural industry access to much faster speeds, which may also increase the adoption of wireless technologies. Here is a closer look at how this may impact the future of farming.

What Is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of cellular wireless technology. It is the next standard in wireless communication after 4G. 

4G was introduced in the late 2000s and allowed for HD streaming on mobile devices and higher quality video phone calls. Coverage is now widespread and has changed the way people access the internet on mobile phones and tablets. 

As with any technology, 4G has limitations. It offers maximum download speeds of 100 Mbps. While 4G is about 20 times faster than 3G, it lacks the speed, latency, and communication range needed in the farming industry. Using sensors to monitor crop rotation and other factors across large acreage require superior bandwidth. 

4G cannot provide peak speeds across the entire country. Rural areas tend to experience slower speeds and more dropped transmissions compared to other areas. 5G can solve this issue, but remains unavailable in many rural parts of the country.

All major cellular carriers now have 5G networks. They started implementing 5G technology in major cities and heavily populated regions. Rural areas will receive a slower rollout of 5G and a potentially slower network. 

5G May Resolve the Rural Broadband Dilemma

Cellular carriers plan to implement low-band and mid-band 5G in rural regions and mid-band and high-band 5G in urban areas. Even with low band 5G, farmers will gain access to a much more reliable network compared to current wireless solutions.

Many farmers depend on unreliable satellite services, slow DSL connections, or limited 4G coverage. As carriers start offering 5G in rural areas, farmers should finally have a stable network for connecting to the internet and accessing the latest farming technologies, such as:

  • Autonomous farm equipment
  • Drones and sensors
  • Smart collars

These technologies may help address the growing need for food. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that by 2050, humans will require 70% more food. Experts also predict a reduction in agriculture jobs, with the workforce shrinking to 1.78 million by 2035.

​Access to Autonomous Farm Equipment

Some of the top manufacturers of agricultural equipment manufacturers are implementing advanced technologies. Future farm equipment may depend on 5G networks for transmitting and collecting data.

For example, John Deer acquired an artificial intelligence (AI) startup to incorporate robotics and machine learning into its equipment. Other manufacturers have developed prototypes for autonomous equipment, limiting the need for human labor. 

There are also examples of automation in agriculture already in place. In one project, a team of developers successfully planted and harvested a crop without requiring a single human. Another project relied on 5G technology to boost the efficiency of crop spraying.

In the coming years, these technologies will become readily available to farmers. One of the biggest hurdles right now is the limitation of 4G networks. With 5G, farmers can implement technology that increases yields and reduces labor.

Improves Communication for Drones and Sensors

Drones and sensors are increasingly common on farms and ranches throughout the United States. Farmers rely on sensors to monitor crops, rainfall, and other factors that impact the harvest. Many ranchers use sensors and drones to closely monitor their livestock. 

5G networks should improve data transfer rates for drones, sensors, and many other technologies. 5G speeds are expected to top out at 10 gigabits per second, making it 100 times faster than 4G. While rural areas may not receive the fastest 5G coverage, they should still expect speeds at least 10 times faster.

Along with faster speeds, 5G networks should bring shorter delays and increased connectivity. 5G networks provide lower latency, helping to prevent data lag, which is needed for seamless communication between devices.

After implementing 5G and the latest drones and monitoring equipment, farmers can reliably monitor their fields and automate a wide range of labor-intensive processes. These benefits should help bring greater profits while addressing the need for more food.

​Smart Collars Help Ranchers Track Cattle

A UK startup partnered with the UK government and Cisco to develop 5G-connected collars and a smartphone app. The app allows ranchers to receive real-time updates on the health and behavior of the animals.

The potential applications for smart collars and sensors are endless. The developers believe that this technology may eventually allow farmers to select grazing areas based on available nutrition or help detect when a cow is sick or pregnant. 

5G Should Help Reduce Unnecessary Waste

Implementing 5G-connected technologies may help farmers increase the efficiency of their processes. With careful monitoring of fields and weather, they can limit unnecessary spending on pesticides, fertilizer, and other chemicals that negatively impact the soil. Maintaining healthy soil should limit the need for crop rotation while improving yields.

Reducing the number of chemicals that run off into the soil limits the impact of farms on the local water table. Farms may become more sustainable and have less of an impact on the environment.

When Can Farmers Expect to Receive 5G?

All four major US cellular carriers deployed 5G in 2019, starting with major cities. Atlanta was the first city to receive 5G coverage from all four carriers, followed by other metro areas. 

AT&T currently has the largest coverage area, offering 5G in cities in almost every state. Unfortunately, the coverage area still does not include the rural areas where most farms are located. 

John Deere and other manufacturers are actively advocating for greater connectivity in rural areas. Even tech giant Microsoft is working to develop technology to improve transmission across large open spaces.

The big four carriers are slow to cover the rural parts of America due to the investment and the limited population. These companies are waiting on subsidies from the government to help reduce the financial burden of installing new cell towers and equipment to reach rural markets.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set a goal for providing 5G coverage to 90% of the population within the next five years. However, this may not cover all farmland. 

The proposed 90% coverage includes about 36% of the land. Reaching remote areas far away from major cities may take several more years.

The bottom line is that 5G should revolutionize the future of the agricultural industry. Many of the technologies that are already employed in the manufacturing industry may eventually end up on farms. 5G opens the doors to automated tractors and farm equipment and a wide range of sensors for monitoring crops or livestock. 

With the help of 5G-connected equipment, farmers may enjoy healthier crops with greater yields while scaling back on labor.