19 November 1999

Digital links set to break communication barriers

By Edward Long

WITHIN two years most UK farmers will have a computer, an e-mail address and access to the internet.

That will allow them to exploit the ever-widening range of software designed to help manage their business and increase profits, says IT specialist Andy Offer of ADAS, who is president elect of the British Association of Information Technology in Agriculture.

He expects an "explosion" of interest in electronic communications. "About 50% of farmers have a computer in the office or home, and half of them use specialist agricultural software for the accounts or day-to-day field records.

"But only 10-15% use e-mail or the internet. This is about to change dramatically as more and more farmers get online.

"The need to communicate rapidly by e-mail, which is already starting to have an impact, will drive the move to the new technology on to every holding in the country," he forecasts.

It is easier to make contact via the farm computer than by phone, farmers without e-mail are already finding themselves increasingly isolated, Mr Offer claims.

"Using e-mail to transfer data is another rapidly expanding area. The most recent example of this is the provision for e-mail transmission of cattle movement data to MAFFs BCMS in Cumbria," he says.

A further push will come with the need for livestock producers to meet new legislation for accurate and up-to-date records of beef animals to allow full traceability, cattle passports and complex subsidy claims.

Any food producer will need to have computerised recording systems to enable them to cope with the demands, Mr Offer says.

In the arable sector, accurate records are needed for produce traceability to satisfy the requirements of assurance schemes and supermarket production protocols, and to prepare IACS claims.

"Commercial use of the Internet to deliver information is still in its infancy and the growth of specialist agricultural information providers is now adding focus to what is an ill-defined and undisciplined activity.

Other factors which will nudge farmers towards the new technology include the development of precision farming, and computer-based decision support systems.

E-FARMING LIFT-OFF

&#8226 Computers on 50% of farms.

&#8226 Aid communications.

&#8226 Good info source.

&#8226 Helps aid claims.

&#8226 Underpins assurance.

&#8226 Cuts paperwork.

&#8226 Decision support.