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Minnesota Turkey Farmers Say Expanded Rural Broadband Could Help Detect Bird Flu Sooner
Minnesota Ag Connection - 11/30/2023

Just over 5 miles from where folklore has long claimed Vikings scribbled Scandinavian etchings on a runestone, Erica Sawatzke surveys thousands of chirping baby birds in her long barn.

Automatic feed and water lines hum. A monitoring system—hooked up to a landline—alerts Sawatzke's phone when barn temperatures, normally kept above 90 degrees, drop precipitously.

But there's one thing missing in these barns that could bring them into the 21st century: high-speed internet.

Sawatzke, a sixth-generation farmer, can't adjust the temperature with a tap of her phone. She doesn't have cameras to livestream the turkeys—which could be a game-changer as the industry fights bird flu.

And for the mother of two who runs between school, the post office and statewide meetings as the president for the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, that internet connection could afford her something equally rare—peace of mind.

If her barns had high-speed internet, she might not feel so tethered to the farm.

"You can maybe have a little more of a life off the farm," Sawatzke said.

Despite political momentum for rural broadband buildouts, many Minnesota farms still lack the internet technology that might otherwise ease the arduousness of working a farm.

This summer, Minnesota politicians touted record investments in broadband infrastructure, including more than $700 million in federal and state funding. The goal: wiring the entire state with high-speed internet, much like last century's expansion of rural electrification.

At a June news conference in St. Paul, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said the state aims to hook up families with faster connectivity, whether they live in Minneapolis or the farthest "reaches of the north woods."

"As equipment becomes more advanced, our farms, our soybean fields, our cornfields, and our transportation systems are increasingly relying on strong internet connection," Flanagan said.


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