Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Farm
Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Farm

New England Farmers Union (NEFU) President Roger Noonan, and several Maine-based NEFU members testified in Augusta on April 2 to support a bill that would help fund high-speed Internet service for the remaining 6 percent of rural Mainers who don’t have such service, many of whom are farmers. NEFU’s member-written policy supports efforts to provide competitively priced, high-speed broadband access to the Internet for all Americans.

“Farmers and rural business owners need the Internet to collect and fulfill orders from customers; to order seeds, inputs, and machine parts; to file taxes; to do basic bookkeeping and pay workers; to research and apply for grants; to market their farm to visitors and tourists and potential customers; and to email their legislators on issues that impact them,” Noonan told the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

The committee held a public hearing on LD 826, An Act to Promote Maine’s Economic Development and Critical Communications for Rural Family Farms, Businesses, and Residences by Strategic Public Investments in High Speed Internet. The bill would, among other things, increase ConnectME Authority funding for high speed internet infrastructure investment in Maine from $1 million to $5 million annually.

Jane and Haiely Bell of Tide Mill Organic Farm
Jane and Haiely Bell of Tide Mill Organic Farm

NEFU member Jane Bell said her family has been farming at Tide Mill Organic Farm in Edmunds, Maine, since 1765. “If Tide Mill is going to help feed Maine,” she told the committee, “we must have high speed Internet.”

NEFU member Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, Maine, said poor Internet connectivity costs his farm business $10,000 a year.

Mary Castonguay of Castonguay Ayrshires in Livermore, Maine, a member of NEFU, said, “I update the farm’s Facebook page daily. Farmers who sell direct to consumers need to showcase what they’re selling that day. With social media, you need that daily presence. Without the Internet, you can’t reach your customers and you lose your marketing edge. I would be lost without access to high-speed Internet.”

Timothy Hobbs, Director of Development/Grower Relations at the Maine Potato Board, told the committee, “Lack of high speed Internet puts Maine potato farmers at a competitive disadvantage,” and said Maine has the potential to grow an increasing percentage of the nation’s food, given the California water shortage.

President Noonan added: “Legislative action is needed to avoid a rural/urban digital divide. Rural broadband is about access to information and markets. LD 826 puts state funding where it will encourage economic development in rural Maine.”

“Simply put,” he said, “businesses, including farms, can’t grow and thrive in 2015 without high speed Internet.”

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