More than three-quarters of farmers are now using the internet, a recent survey conducted by ADAS, the rural sector consultancy, shows.
Seventy-eight percent of the 2,000 farmers who responded as part of the consultancy’s annual Farmers’ Voice Survey say they are now using the internet, with 61% using it for business purposes.
The survey suggests that farmers are no longer lagging behind when it comes to IT use, ADAS IT business manager Andy Offer says. “Farmers have caught up fast in the last few years and are quickly realising the significant time and cost benefits available from embracing IT.”
Email use has increased from 40% five years ago to 73% today. “This is probably not surprising given the geographically dispersed nature of the industry and the fact that most farmers don’t work office hours which makes electronic communication such a valuable new tool for them,” Mr Offer explains.
Farmers and their families are frequently making use of the home PC to keep abreast of current affairs and also access business related information, the survey shows. “Horticulture is a big user at 87%, but dairy farmers aren’t far behind with 81% of them surfing the net for business purposes. Regionally, computer use in the north and the south is well above the average (84% and 87%) with Wales the lowest at 69%.”
While a common gripe among farmers (and those supplying them) is that internet connections in rural areas are slower and much less reliable, the survey suggests half of the 80% of farmers now using the web are connected by broadband.
The survey also looked at how farmers were using their computers for business purposes.
“Most people who need an accounts package or a dairy recording system have got one now but online services are making agricultural IT much more widely available and easily accessible,” Mr Offer says. “The survey revealed that more farmers are now using IT for online purposes than for the traditional offline administrative tasks like accounting and enterprise management.
“Forty-four percent are buying inputs on line and 42% are supplying information to the government on line.”
Farmers were asked what they thought the barriers were which stopped them using the internet. The most common concerns were lack of knowledge of what is available online and lack of perceived need.
Lack of time was also identified, but Mr Offer says that could be misleading. “The problem is that ‘time’ is usually confused with other factors. Poor IT skills, lack of familiarity through irregular use, or simply not knowing where to look for information all confuse the picture.”
The survey also examined the level of use of decision support tools such as ADAS’s PLANET fertiliser recommendation tool. Sixteen percent of those surveyed are now using such tools to help them run their businesses.