13 December 1996

IT event enlightening – for those who showed

CYBERSPACE, cyberskyving, stacks, spam, smileys. And how about playing with Veronica, too. Confused?

All these computer techno terms would have perplexed most farmers attending the Information Technology for Farmers conference – had any of them turned up.

But turn up, they did not. Of the 140-odd delegates at the Rhône-Poulenc-sponsored event, held at Silsoe College last week, no more than a handful were farmers. A more apt tag might have been "Information Technology for Agri-business".

Conference organiser, Geoff Goodson, admitted to being a "little disappointed" at the practical farming turn-out, but put this down to the way the event had been promoted.

Nevertheless, for those who did show up, the conference provided an enlightening day in which speakers succeeded in clearing some of the cloud around the Internet – the interconnections between millions of computers worldwide – and its potential uses (Machinery, Dec 6, p60).

In the morning session, independent trainers Marie Skinner and Steve Nichols demonstrated the power of the media, and how it could be used by farmers for gathering up-to-date market and weather information from around the world. Buying second-hand machinery, comparing pesticide prices, and calling up topical agronomic advice from research station web sites were other uses.

And then there is e-mail, the computerised and faster alternative to traditional "red van" mailing services, or "snail mail", as Mr Nichols called it. Afternoon speaker John Fuller, of Galaxy Precision Ag Services, reckoned e-mail, rather than the wider Internet, would soon become the most farmer-used part of the Internet.

"Surfing the worldwide web is a novelty that very quickly wears off," Mr Fuller said. "It may be fun to start off with, but it takes up a lot of time and can hardly be called productive work."

According to Mr Fuller, it is more likely that as precision/spatially variable farming takes off, farmers will use e-mail to make the use of such systems cheaper. For example, a farmer could have satellite photographs – as an alternative to yield maps – of his fields sent to his computer by e-mail. After deciding on, say, a fertiliser application map, that data could then be returned, again by e-Mail, to the fertiliser spreading/ contracting company for interpretation and loading on to its machinery hardware.

But that is for the future. More immediate interest is being shown in closed subscriber groups, such as Farming On-line, which provide specialist farming information as well as giving Internet access.

Farming On-lines Vanessa Vann says the firm has already signed up 1000 subscribers since the systems launch back in May. &#42

Steve Nichols on-line and addressing the world. Well, not quite. In fact, he was speaking to 140 delegates at an Information Technology conference last week, with just a few Internet browsers tuning in and out during the day.