Top Crop Manager

Features Business & Policy Business Management
Internet supports more farm businesses

Access and ease of use improvements prompting increased use.


November 15, 2007
By Top Crop Manager

Topics

32aMore than one half of growers now use computers and the internet to streamline
business practices and to improve their information support systems. More specifically,
according to Statistics Canada, 55 percent of prairie farm families have computers
and about 40 percent of farms have internet service.

The reasons farmers use computers vary. Forty percent of growers report using
a computer for bookkeeping, and 30 percent say they use it for word processing.

In March, 2003, a two year study of on-farm computers and internet use was
completed by Brian Ludwig, a Regina agrologist and computer programmer for the
Agricultural Institute of Management for Saskatchewan. Ludwig surveyed 200 people
on computer use. He found that 100 percent of those surveyed use the internet
for email, 67 percent for financial management and 62 percent for e-commerce
applications like online banking. Sixty-seven percent said they use the computer
for keeping crop production records and 65 percent obtain supplier information
through the internet.

Internet access is often the preferred way to access market prices. Says Ludwig:
"Ninety-two percent of those surveyed said they use internet to access
current market prices. Internet service is a major component in farm management."

It also appears that most farmers are finding agricultural portals helpful
in narrowing down their information searches. "Some internet users don't
like searching for information," Ludwig says. "A portal like Agriville
makes it much easier to access a lot of pre-selected web sites."

Access
On-farm phone line systems and slow connection speeds can make internet access
frustrating, difficult, and sometimes expensive for rural internet users. These
issues are being addressed slowly, Ludwig says. "Web site designers and
operators can't change the access speed, but they can make it easier and faster
for users to get what they need."

He points out that web site operators are doing a better job of serving the
information needs of the farm market. "Banks and chemical companies are
providing good reference material, templates and utility programs for customers.
In the near future, the federal government wants to allow them to manage safety
net accounts on the internet," Ludwig says.

Lauren Davis, Bayer CropScience e-commerce specialist, says that dramatic changes
and growth in internet use have stimulated the company's new internet initiatives
over the past three years.

"The amount of traffic to the Bayer CropScience site has gone up dramatically,"
Davis says. "We're delivering a volume of information by internet that
would be impractical or impossible to handle by fax or mail in season. Our site
delivers product and agronomic information to our customers instantly every
day of the year."

Davis says the Bayer CropScience site at www.bayercropscience.ca is designed
to be accessible and fast. "Speed is of utmost importance to rural users.
The content must be relevant to the farm operator's needs. We know our site
visitors want to quickly access their information and download it fast. We respect
the fact that they're often paying for download time themselves."

Customized information
Davis says it has become evident to Bayer CropScience that customers are using
the web to make informed farm business decisions and they want information tailored
to their needs. "Once a person customizes their preferences, the site displays
only the items of interest to the visitor."

For example, a Saskatchewan wheat and canola grower might not want to pull
up, or even encounter, information about eastern soybean diseases. Bayer CropScience's
site gives the visitor quick access to wheat and canola information without
extraneous subject matter.

In the MyBayer area of the site, content is also filtered according to the
grower's personal preference and location.

"MyBayer is like a local newspaper. We simultaneously publish 30 to 40
localized versions of information just like newspapers across western Canada,"
Davis explains. "The business tools, guide, library and programs in MyBayer
are also shaped to fit the farmer's specific areas of interest."

Since the fall of 2002, growers and retailers have utilized bayercropscience.ca
to sign up for rebate programs and to view the status of their redemption. This
initiative is intended to remove many of the hassles associated with rebate
paperwork.

"We discovered that people want a better way to claim rebates," says
Davis. "We've removed most of the paperwork usually involved in making
rebate claims. The response has been very positive. Through our rebate management
tools, we've found a way to increase efficiencies and help dealers."

He adds: "Our volume of traffic indicates that producers are using the
internet more. We know they're looking for quick access to support information
that applies to their business and ways to make business transactions easier.
We're responding to that."

Access to the internet not only allows farmers to keep up with the information
age, it also supports business decisions. Access to current information appears
to be one of the motivating reasons for the increase in on-farm computer use.
As high speed internet connections reach rural communities, information support
for farm businesses will continue to improve. -30-