Linda Benedict, Mishra, Ashok | 9/28/2011 7:18:24 PM
Hiroki Uematsu and Ashok K. Mishra
The Internet allows people access to a vast amount of information in a wide variety of formats at considerably lower costs in much shorter time than ever before. The Internet has removed geographical and time constraints in information gathering. People can access information whenever they need it from wherever they have an Internet connection. The Internet is becoming an increasingly important management tool in production agriculture. An increasing number of U.S. farmers go online to purchase inputs, sell farm products directly to consumers, submit applications for government programs, and keep up with changes in agriculture.
This article summarizes Internet use by Louisiana farmers and farm households using data from the 2009 Agricultural Resource Management Survey conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the Economic Research Service.
In 2009, 63 percent of U.S. farmers reported they had Internet access. Of those who had Internet access, 80 percent reported using a high-speed connection. These figures are significantly lower in Louisiana. A little over half of Louisiana farmers reported having Internet access, and 76 percent of them connected via highspeed Internet. In Louisiana, 72 percent of the farm Internet users accessed the Internet from a farm residence or office, which is close to the national average of 74 percent. A desktop computer was the most popular form of Internet access both in Louisiana (66 percent) and nationally (77 percent).
Louisiana farmers, on average, paid $53 per month for Internet access in 2009, which was slightly more than the national average of $51. The relatively low rate of Internet adoption and the higher average expenses among farm Internet users in Louisiana could be due to a supply-side issue; it is more expensive to subscribe to Internet services in rural Louisiana because of low availability of Internet services, which decreases Internet adoption among farm households.
What do farmers use the Internet for?
Of those farmers who had an Internet connection in Louisiana, 65 percent read farm news online. The percentage was similar in the neighboring states of Arkansas and Mississippi (63 percent), but lower than the national average in 2009, which was 73 percent. The same holds true for use of farm commerce via the Internet. While 36 percent of farmers made use of the Internet for commerce across the country, only 30 percent of them did so in Arkansas and Mississippi. The percentage was much lower in Louisiana (11 percent).
Internet use and operator characteristics
In 2009, farmers who used the Internet were younger, more educated or had fewer years of farming experience than farmers who did not use the Internet. Nationally, 46 percent of non-Internet users were 65 years old or above, compared to 23 percent who used the Internet (Figure 1). Only 27 percent of the farmers who did not use the Internet had a college degree or beyond, in contrast to 60 percent for farmers who used the Internet. Of those farmers who had 20 or fewer years of farming experience, 75 percent used the Internet. This relationship reverses for more experienced farmers. Of the farmers with 41 years or more experience on the farm, 34 percent used the Internet.
These trends were also indicated in Louisiana. Figure 1 shows that in Louisiana, a higher percentage of farm Internet users were aged 44 years or younger (27 percent), compared with non-Internet users (11 percent). Only 12 percent of the farmers who used the Internet had less than a high school education, while that figure was 24 percent for nonusers. Only 1 percent of Louisiana farmers who used the Internet had 41 years or longer farming experience, in contrast to 22 percent for nonusers.
Internet use and farm characteristics
Use of the Internet was associated with farm characteristics such as total operated acres and farm sales. Farm Internet users, on average, operated more acres both in Louisiana and nationally than did nonusers. In 2009, Louisiana farmers who used the Internet operated an average of 273 acres, approximately 10 percent more than farmers with no Internet access (249 acres). The difference between users and nonusers of the Internet, however, was more prominent in other regions of the country. For example, in Arkansas and Mississippi, Internet users on average operated 42 percent more acres than nonusers; the difference is even more striking on the national level where Internet users operated an average of 484 acres, 56 percent more than nonusers (309 acres) (Figure 2).
Farm Internet users had higher average farm sales than nonusers. Nationally, about 20 percent of Internet users had annual sales of $100,000 or more, while only 11 percent of nonusers were in this category. In Louisiana, 16 percent of Internet users and 8 percent of nonusers had annual sales of $100,000 or more. In contrast, 57 percent of Internet users on the farm nationally had annual sales of less than $10,000, compared to 63 percent nonusers. In Louisiana those numbers were 64 percent of users against 69 percent of nonusers.
Similarly, farm Internet users have higher average household incomes, a combination of on-farm and off-farm income, in all three regions considered. While farm Internet users have higher average off-farm income than nonusers in Mississippi and Arkansas and nationally, nonusers have much higher average off-farm income in Louisiana. A possible reason may be that traditional agriculture and marketing channels still play an important role in the Louisiana farm economy. It seems there was no clear association between Internet usage and off-farm income in 2009.
Although the Internet has drastically transformed the way farm business is carried out in the United States, the impact of the Internet on various aspects of farm business management seems to be less apparent in Louisiana as of 2009. Relative to the national average, the percentages of farmers having Internet access and Internet users having a highspeed connection are lower in Louisiana. Both in Louisiana and nationally, the majority of Internet users on the farm go online using desktop computers from a farm residence or office. They tend to be younger, more educated or less experienced but operate larger acreages, record higher farm sales or have higher household income than farmers who do not use the Internet.
More Louisiana farmers need highspeed Internet access to keep up to date with the latest developments in agriculture and stay competitive. Furthermore, the LSU AgCenter and other land-grant universities need to conduct more educational outreach programs through the Internet. These farmers will seek solutions to technical problems, determine agricultural marketing strategies, and seek to improve farm profitability via the Internet. Additionally, farmers will need assistance in all aspects of website development for an e-based agricultural business.
Hiroki Uematsu, Graduate Research Assistant, and Ashok K. Mishra, Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.
(This article was published in the summer 2011 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)