Beth Ford: The Importance Of Connecting Rural America

By Annie Baker • Dec 22, 2019
  • Land O’Lakes, Inc. president and CEO Beth Ford recently told Fortune what she believes should be a trend in the 2020s

Land O’Lakes, Inc. president and CEO Beth Ford was recently asked by Fortune what she believes should be a trend in the 2020s. And Ford pointed out that of 24 million Americans, 80% of them live in rural areas and they do not have to high-speed Internet, which is the greatest enabler of human connection in our lifetime.

“It is to our times what electricity and transportation were to our grandparents,” said Ford via Fortune. “In 10 years, all America must be connected. We must address accessibility in rural areas and affordability in urban areas. Less than 2% of the population provides the nation with safe and affordable food. The health of their communities is vital to the food security of the nation.”

Unfortunately, one in four children in rural America lives in poverty. And over the past year, rural job growth was less than half the nationwide rate. Over 60% of new jobs were in metro areas compared to 8% in rural areas. Plus nearly 45% of the 2017 deaths from heart disease in rural areas were considered “potentially preventable” compared to 18.5% in one of the urban classifications.

Without enough of a population to support large grocery stores, fresh food is less available in rural areas. And farmers — both small and large — are the backbone of these communities. When farmers are not profitable, they cannot invest in education, health care, and the local economy.

Today 60% of farmers do not have enough connectivity to run their businesses. And 78% do not have a choice of ISPs. Plus 60% say what they have is too slow. Modern agriculture relies on cutting-edge technology and precision farming tools for boosting production while also addressing climate concerns.
“You would think, given these statistics, coupled with the year they’ve had, farmers would look to the future with trepidation. But they are looking forward with a sense of action in mind—and so should we. In the coming decade, we will either connect rural America or risk losing it,” added Ford.