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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


The Changing Face of Computers in Agriculture

May 5, 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio — More Ohio farmers are jumping on the technology bandwagon. Computer adoption is increasing, according to an Ohio State University Extension survey. But what is even more revealing is how the use of such technology is changing.

"Financial accounting still remains the base for computer use among farmers. But the Internet is growing as an important tool for farm management," said Marvin Batte, an OSU Extension agricultural economist and the author of the survey. "We are seeing a huge change in the depth of the use of computer information and the gathering process outside the farm business. Farmers are using the Internet for general information searches, such as Google, to acquire a broad range of information."

The study, "Changing computer use in agriculture: evidence from Ohio," recently published in the journal Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, surveyed 2,500 Ohio farmers and found that nearly 45 percent of respondents own a computer. (A similar OSU Extension survey conducted in 1991 reported that less than 1/3 of farmers were using computers).

Of those farmers who had computers, nearly 90 percent used the computer for financial record keeping, but 80 percent were also using the Internet. Additionally, Internet-based applications ranked in the top three most important computer tasks by 73.5 percent of those surveyed.

"As computers become more capable of performing tasks, the benefits increase for people to use them. Plus users recognize that there are more opportunities available through the computer," said Batte. "E-commerce is definitely on its way in agriculture. How farmers use their computers is changing the way businesses and their customers interact."

The survey, which focused on farmers that make more than $40,000 in on-farm sales, analyzed such characteristics as age, education level and time spent on the farm. Seasonal farmers, those aged 50 or younger, those who have a post high school education and make over $250,000 in on-farm sales were more likely to use a computer.

"There may be significant differences among those characteristics," said Batte, "but what is most important is that we found out there is no significant difference in the time spent on a computer. Which is saying to us that no matter your age, income level or education level, all users feel they are getting good value out of the technology once they make the decision to adopt."

What does surprise Batte is the continued segregation between technology adoption and age. An Ohio State survey conducted in 1987 and the one Ohio State agricultural economists conducted in 1991 showed a strong relationship between age and adoption rate: the older one is, the less likely he/she is to embrace technology.

"We had thought that distinction would disappear as time marched on and it became easier for people to use technology. But that's not the case. The line is narrowing but it's still there," said Batte. "We call it the ‘VCR blinking light problem.' Some people just don't like technology and aren't willing to learn how to set their VCR clock — or master the computer — and the older we get the less we are willing to adopt."

Candace Pollock
Marvin Batte