Survey shows farm computer use continues to grow

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2015 - The majority of farmers and ranchers now have computer and Internet access, and the number of connected producers continues to grow.

That's the key outtake from a new survey, Farm and Computer Usage and Ownership, released this week by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. According to the survey, 70 percent of U.S. producers report having access to the Internet, a 3 percent jump from 2013, the previous edition of the biennial survey. Some 73 percent of farms reported having access to a computer, up from the 71 percent figure in 2013.

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The news could be seen as a spur to USDA efforts to move some of the record keeping and customer service efforts of the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service online rather than through in-person office visits. Those efforts could lead to streamlined information reporting at FSA and NRCS offices across the country and eliminate the need for office visits by farmers to certify their data.

Last month at a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said FSA was working on improving the MIDAS (Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems) project, which could facilitate online access to FSA programs for producers. NRCS has an online component, Gateway, which it calls “a one stop source for environmental and natural resources data.” Vilsack said FSA is working with NRCS to utilize the Gateway system.

In the survey, 43 percent of producers reported using computers for farm business compared to 40 percent in 2013. According to NASS, computer uses include:

  • Purchasing agricultural inputs: 19 percent
  • Marketing activities: 16 percent
  • Accessing USDA-NASS reports: 10 percent
  • Accessing other USDA reports/services: 17 percent
  • Accessing other federal government websites: 17 percent
  • Conducting business with any USDA website: 9 percent
  • Conducting business with any other federal government website: 7 percent
  • Conducting business with a non-agricultural website: 44 percent

Regionally, computer usage and Internet access was lowest, but not by much, in the South (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia). In that region, 68 percent of farms have access to a computer and 66 percent have access to the Internet. The West (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) is the highest in both categories with 77 percent of farms having access to a computer and 74 percent having access to the Internet.

Economic success also appears to be a role in computer ownership and Internet access. 85 percent of farms in the sales class of $250,000 or more reported having access to a computer and 82 percent have Internet access. Larger farms also use their computers for farm business at a much greater clip than the average farm; 73 percent of farms in the $250,000 or more sales class use their computer for farm business, 30 percentage points higher than the average.

The survey is based on responses from about 28,000 agricultural operations from all sizes and types of farms.

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