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High-speed broadband a game changer for Alberta farmer

The Price family have been in the agriculture business since the late 1800s. 

Ray Price’s grandfather was born on the Burns Ranch just before the turn of the 20th century. That’s right around the time the telephone was invented, and long before automated farm equipment, the Internet, cell phones, computers and advancements in genetics and botany were even a “thing.”

From generation to generation — like many ranching and farming families across Alberta — the Price clan has watched, welcomed and adopted new technology and practices to the fold as part of their thriving farming business in Acme (established in 1950). 

“Those in rural centres of the country tend to have a sort of romantic view of farming. But the truth, of course, is that the agriculture sector has always been an early adopter of technology,” says Price, who’s been part of the family Hog farming business since 1979. He’s also the president of Sunterra Group, founded in 1990.

“We were using micro-computers before urban companies were because we could see the value before standard businesses did … Technology in farming has been evolving ever since. It’s embedded in everything from tractors and cultivators — which are all run by GPS — to control systems on barns for nutrition.”

Since the 1950s, the Price family farm and Sunterra have grown exponentially. With locations in Ontario, Drumheller, around Acme and Trochu, as well as business locations in the U.S., and partners in Europe and Asia, communication technology and has become as integral to business as equipment and hardware tech is. 

Considering the breadth of daily international communication and collaboration that needs to take place to run things, you might think it was time for Price and crew to pack up the office and move headquarters to Calgary or another urban centre. But Price says they have every intention of remaining in, and running operations from rural Alberta. 

“The ability to have our office in Acme is a direct result of being able to access fibre to the premise high-speed Internet technology,” he says, adding that the Trochu plant’s broadband and WiFi also runs on fibre.

A little over a decade ago, Price decided to invest in fibre to the premise broadband high-speed internet for the farm. Axia Fiber Optic Internet (ISP) being the only group that would offer this service to the Acme and Trochu areas. Axia hooked up the businesses to the Alberta SuperNet.

“The high-speed broadband was a game changer,” says Price. 

A wireless tower was added to the property soon after to give the farm the ultimate boost in mobile Internet access. Data collection from farming equipment, gathering valuable technological information in real time then delivering that data back to operations, is now virtually instantaneous. 

The impact exceeds day-to-day operations on the farm, fibre to the premise (FTTP) has also been a game changer for the day-to-day business arm which runs out of Sunterra Group’s rural and urban offices.  “Axia has allowed us to link with customers around the world and data analysis to improve productivity in livestock and grain land. The technology means access to future markets for pricing and hedging, data sharing for meetings, access to Skype … the list goes on,” says Price.  

For many Albertans in urban centres, the idea of high-speed Internet access and applying that technology to equipment and hardware (the Internet of Things) in everyday life and business is taken for granted. But for rural families and businesses across the province, comparable Internet to that of urban centres is often seen as a luxury.

According to Price, communications is a must, not only for those in the Alberta agriculture sector but for all businesses and families in rural centres. 

“High-speed access is critical going forward for this province. Alberta agriculture produces a surplus of food and can continue to be a major exporter globally. We must be better than the others with the execution of production,” he says, adding that many smaller businesses are still relying on satellite link ups and cable.

“Those solutions might seem okay because they’re narrowly serving the purpose… But those systems are more costly in the long term. Not to mention time-consuming and slower. They can’t handle the megabytes needed to run a business. I feel that many farmers and ranchers don’t realize how much better it can be. When people come into our office and see how fast our Internet is running, they commonly ask ‘how can we get this?’.”

Price says it cost his operation about $25,000 to get fibre to the premise installed, but the investment has been well worth it. 

“Not every business can afford the initial costs themselves, and we understand that. We’re trying to find ways where we can help those surrounding us with our WiFi tower,” he says, adding that it’s also possible for communities and groups of ranchers and farmers to come together and invest as one to get an entire area hooked-up to the Alberta SuperNet.

“It will take leaders in the community to unite and encourage a group of businesses to organize the access. Wireless is going to be the answer for many of these businesses,” says Price. “It’s not only small business and agriculture. Access to high-speed broadband in every community is about individuals and families.”

Price and his wife raised their five, now adult daughters in the Acme area. He says back then (the '90s) dial-up was the only option for his children when they were studying. 

“Everyone was in the same boat. Now, with urban centres having so much more access to this technology, the risk is that kids will have to work harder and it will take them longer to get information that is integral for their education and their endeavours,” Price says. 

He wants to see all Albertan families prosper and stay in their communities. For that to happen, it’s important that government and industry see the Internet and access to a high-speed connection as necessary infrastructure for all Canadians.

“If you disadvantage those smaller centres and businesses and families, it makes it harder for people to stay in rural communities and build prosperous economies. The more we as the agricultural industry come together to get connected to the SuperNet, the better it’s going to be for everyone,” he says.

“The rural can’t operate without the urban, and the urban can’t operate without the rural. Oil, gas, agriculture and the like takes place outside of the city centres; however, those in the city centres are employed by these industries. Making sure our rural areas are best-served impacts all Albertans, not just those involved in agriculture.”

Price says two of his children work within the family business, but “there’s no pressure.”

“My kids can do whatever they want, but it’s nice that the option to stay in Acme and to make their life here is available to them,” he says.

For more information on our fibre connectivity solutions, contact your Axia salesperson at sales@axia.com or 1-866-773-3348.

 

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