Boyd Champness

AUSTRALIAN farmers are leaving their city counterparts for dead when it comes to embracing the Internet but are yet to appreciate its full potential, a report has found.

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation report found that at least 20% of the farming community was online, compared with a national average of 18% of households.

“This implies that Internet access among farmers was higher, and was growing more rapidly, than among households generally,” the report said. “It is, however, lower than the estimates for all Australian small businesses.”

Surveys have found that between 22 and 44% of small businesses have Internet access.

The RIRDC report, featured in The Age newspaper, found that the proportion of farmers connected to the Internet in Australia was higher than in most countries.

In the US, for example, only 13% of farmers were connected by mid-1997, “which would be surprising, given that Australian internet access generally lags behind that in the US”, the report said.

Surveys indicate that 34% of Australian farmers plan to get online by next year.

“An extrapolation of the above information suggests that farm Internet access could be around 40% by the year 2000, rising to 50% in subsequent years,” the report said.

It found that farmers were using the Internet to gather information rather than to make purchases or sell goods. However, this is expected to change in the near future.