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Are you a digitally connected rancher?

August 2017 Ranch computer usage
Computer use on the farm and ranch is growing, but still has some room to increase.

USDA recently updated its relatively new biennial survey: Farm Computer Usage and Ownership. This is an important report; internet access and computer usage is rapidly evolving in rural America. For example, this year’s report added two new categories for internet access: fiber-optic cable, now serving 8% of all U.S. farms, and mobile internet service. 

The report includes several key findings. Overall, 73% of farms have computer access. Meanwhile, nearly half (47%) of farm owners report using a computer for farm business. To that end, another new question was added for the 2017 survey: use of tablet and/or smart phone for farm business. A whopping 39% of farmers/ranchers are now using one or the other for business! 

Meanwhile, there are some key differences among farming operations and how they’re using the internet for business—especially when considering categorization by annual farm revenue. The illustration highlights differences among farmers/ranchers regarding their propensity to actually conduct business online—i.e. using the internet to purchase inputs or facilitate marketing of products. Several key trends are readily evident.


First, larger farms are more likely to use the internet to conduct business. For example, operations generating $250,000 or more were 2.6 times more likely than the smallest farms (39% vs 15%, respectively) to purchase inputs and 4.2 times more likely to use the internet for marketing purposes (38% vs 9%, respectively). Second, whatever the category, there exists a steady increase in computer usage over the past four years, versus the 2013 baseline. 

How does your operation stack up against these survey results? Where do you see these trends headed in the next five to 10 years? What changes will we see around agriculture as the digital age becomes increasingly prevalent in rural America? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Nevil Speer is based in Bowling Green, Ky., and serves as vice president of U.S. operations for AgriClear, Inc. – a wholly-owned subsidiary of TMX Group Limited. The views and opinions of the author expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the TMX Group Limited and Natural Gas Exchange Inc.

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