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Farm computer use evolving

Updated: 09/05/2013 @ 4:19pm

If you own a computer, odds are the farmer down the road does not. While technologies like automatic steering and yield monitors flourish on many farms, significant numbers of operations function without a basic computer.

In an age when a computer is as common as a car, a recent USDA report reveals that 37% of farms still don’t have a computer. Even if a farm does have a computer, 63% do not use it for farm business, and 38% are not yet connected to the Internet.

The numbers are in

The Farm Computer Usage and Ownership report also reveals that farms with higher incomes rank at the top when it comes to usage and ownership. In fact, 84% of farms with sales and government payments of $250,000 or more have access to a computer, 83% own or lease a computer, 72% use a computer for their farm business, and 82% have Internet access.

For farms with sales and government payments between $100,000 and $249,999, 68% have access to a computer as well as own or lease a computer, 52% use a computer for their farm business, and 67% have Internet access.

Of those with sales and government payments between $10,000 and $99,999, 63% have computer access, 62% own or lease a computer, 41% use a computer for their farm business, and 60% have Internet access.

For crop farms, 67% have computer access (that’s up 2% from 2009). Also, 41% used a computer for their farm business in 2011, up 1% from 2009. Internet access for crop farms increased to 64% in 2011, compared with 60% in 2009. In 2011, 63% of livestock farms had computer access, and 61% had Internet access.

If farmers do have access to a computer, what are they currently using it for?

According to the report, only 14% use it to buy ag inputs, which include seed, fertilizer, vet supplies, feed, machinery, replacement parts, farm supplies, and office equipment.

Not surprisingly, larger Midwest farms use their computers to buy inputs or to manage marketing activities. Yet, of the farms with over $250,000 in commodity sales, only 25% buy inputs, and only 33% do Internet marketing like direct sales of commodities, online crop and livestock auctions, or online market advisory services. However, 50% of the largest Midwest farms say they will do business with a nonag website.

Critical component

Even though the numbers may seem low, progress is being made, albeit slowly, especially as the computer’s role evolves.

“Computers will continue to be more crucial, as producers realize the power of the data that’s being collected and utilized for management decisions,” says Kent Shannon, University of Missouri Extension. “For example, implementing on-farm research, developing fertilizer recommendation maps, doing better record keeping, and incorporating crop insurance are all ways computers can be utilized with precision ag technologies.”

Shannon, who has presented at the Computers on the Farm conference for more than 10 years, leads the sessions on precision ag technologies.

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