An early adopter of high technology, Oregon’s farming and ranching community remains among the national leaders in the usage of computers as part of their operations. Results of a recent survey indicate that computers are just as important to most Oregon agricultural producers as the tractor or any other common type of equipment.
“We know that Oregon farmers and ranchers are savvy when it comes to technology,” says Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “We have consistently ranked high among all states each time these computer surveys have been done. What the latest results show, however, is that many other states are finally catching up to where we have been for the past few years.”
The nationwide survey is conducted every two years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Oregon is near the top in nearly all 2009 survey categories. Oregon ranks fifth in the percentage of farm operations with access to a computer (79 percent) trailing New Hampshire (83 percent), Washington (81 percent), Wyoming (81 percent), and Idaho (80 percent). The numbers are similar in the percentage of farmers owning or leasing a computer. Oregon ranks fourth at 75 percent, trailing Wyoming, Idaho, and New Hampshire respectively. Oregon is number five in the percentage of farms with Internet access at 69 percent. Wyoming is first at 80 percent and neighboring Washington is second at 77 percent.
While some states have made huge strides in the percentage of farmers and ranchers using computers as part of their business activities, Oregon appears to have leveled off. At some point, all states will reach a saturation point when it comes to computer usage. Oregon may be close.
“Being an early adopter of computer use may have resulted in Oregon agriculture reaching a plateau while slow adopters are now catching up,” says ODA Information Systems Manager Steve Poland. “It doesn’t surprise me that Oregon is staying at or near the level it has been the past few years.”
It’s possible that Oregon will see increased percentages again as it continues to establish computer accessibility in rural Oregon communities.
At 44 percent, Oregon is still in the top ten of all states in the percentage of farms and ranches using computers for business purposes. It also ranks tenth (16 percent) in operators who have purchased agricultural inputs over the Internet by computer and eleventh (15 percent) in operators who have conducted agricultural marketing activities over the Internet by computer. In all three cases, those percentages are down from the previous survey. The exact reasons for the decrease are not known, but there are a few possible reasons.
“The poor economy may be affecting the numbers downward and there may be other ways to access the Internet rather than by computer,” speculates Poland.
With rising costs and declining prices for many Oregon commodities, some operators may be cutting back on computer related expenses. In some cases, they may be turning off the computer for now. But a more plausible explanation may be that Oregon agriculture, in some cases, has actually outgrown the computer. The rise of the personal digital assistant (PDA) allows many farmers and ranchers to have portability while maintaining access to the Internet. In the palm of their hand, operators can use PDAs to combine cell phones, web browsers, and portable media players as they go about their daily business.
“That’s the great thing about smart phones these days,” says Poland. “It’s all in the applications. It’s like having a small, portable desktop computer that can perform most of the functions needed in today’s high tech world. I am sure at least some of our farmers and ranchers are conducting their business in this fashion.”
The NASS survey does not ask specifically about PDAs, so it is not clear whether responding operators drew a distinction between computers and the hand held devices. Nonetheless, Poland believes that may be a factor in some of the percentage decreases in Oregon’s column.
The NASS survey also indicates how farmers access the Internet. Nationally, high-speed methods such as DSL, cable, satellite, and wireless have become much more available to the farm sector. Once again, Oregon appears to be ahead of the curve when it comes to the primary method of Internet access. The percentage of operators still using dial-up service has been cut in half from 52 percent in 2007 to just 26 percent in 2009. DSL (23 percent) is up substantially from two years ago. The national average of farms using wireless Internet service is 13 percent, but Oregon’s percentage is 23 percent- third highest in the country behind only Illinois and Colorado. Dial-up continues to be Oregon agriculture’s primary access method but it won’t be long before wireless becomes the preferred choice as more farmers take advantage of high speed options.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture, very aware of the substantial amount of computer use in the state, continues to improve its high tech delivery of services. ODA’s Web site provides a tremendous amount of information to both the agricultural community and the general public. ODA is also inching closer to providing online licensing and other services to its many regulated customers.
“We want it possible for our customers, if they choose, to do business with us electronically as much as possible,” says ODA Assistant Director Lauren Henderson. “Hopefully in the near future, they may be able to renew their licenses online, pay invoices online, or contact an inspector and see an inspection report by going through a computer. Getting information out electronically remains a major goal of ours.”
In nearly all categories found in the survey, the west region outpaces the rest of the country when it comes to computer usage. Oregon is doing its fair share to contribute to the region’s success.
For more information, contact Bruce Pokarney at (503) 986-4559.
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