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Oregon farms remain a national leader in computer use

New survey shows Oregon farmers have embraced the computer as a key business tool

Oregon agriculture remains at the front of the line when it comes to embracing the use of the computer as part of a successful operation. Results of a new survey on computer usage confirm that the state’s farming and ranching community is a national leader in several top categories, enhancing Oregon’s reputation as an early adopter of high technology.

“We’ve seen for years that computers are just as important to our agricultural producers as the tractor or any other type of equipment associated with farming,” says Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “Our farmers and ranchers are savvy with the computer and use it in nearly every aspect of their operation. I’m not surprised to see us continually rank at or near the top among states every time these computer surveys are conducted.”

The nationwide survey is conducted every two years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Oregon is at or near the top in nearly all 2013 survey categories. Oregon is tied for first in the percentage of farm operations with access to a computer, at 84 percent, matching its neighbor to the north, Washington. Oregon is also tied with Washington in the percentage of operators that own or lease computers (81 percent) and in the percentage of operations with internet access (81 percent). Oregon is tied for fifth with Montana in the percentage of farm operations using a computer for farm business (48 percent), trailing New Jersey, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota. In all categories covered by the survey, Oregon is well above the national average.

Other states have made huge strides in the percentage of farmers and ranchers using computers as part of their business activities. Oregon’s numbers are up from the 2011 survey but not as dramatically as some other states.

“Oregon is a pretty progressive state and I think we see people using a tool that is advantageous for them on a daily basis,” says ODA Information Systems Manager Steve Poland. “The internet and access to it gives them the ability to do their business more efficiently and effectively.”

At some point, all states may reach a saturation point when it comes to computer usage. But for now, nearly all are showing improvement in farm computer usage. For Oregon, the 84 percent computer access mark is a slight increase from 83 percent recorded in 2011 as the state continues to make strides in establishing computer accessibility for rural Oregon communities.

At 27 percent, Oregon is tied with Wyoming for second in the percentage of farms and ranches using computers to purchase agricultural inputs over the internet. New Jersey leads the nation in that category at 37 percent. Oregon is tied with North Dakota for fourth (20 percent) in operators who have conducted agricultural marketing activities over the internet by computer, with Iowa the national leader at 30 percent. In both purchasing agricultural inputs and conducting marketing activities over the internet, Oregon’s farmers and ranchers have shown significant increases in just two years as operators are using the computer to do more than just get information.

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. A look at the changes over the past couple of surveys reveals the importance of faster internet access. In 2007, 52 percent of Oregon operators used dial-up service compared to only 6 percent today. Access via satellite has increased to 23 percent and by cable to 15 percent. Interestingly, the percentage of operators using wireless internet service in Oregon actually dropped from 26 percent in 2011 to 21 percent today. Still, wireless, satellite, and DSL remain the preferred choices as more farmers take advantage of high speed options.

“Before, many Oregon farmers and ranchers were in remote areas of the state where they could not get any type of connection to the internet,” says Poland. “The best connection they had was dial-up. Now, dial-ups are fast becoming a thing of the past.”

The NASS survey does not address it, but Poland speculates that Oregon agriculture, in some cases, has actually outgrown the computer. The rise of mobile devices allows many farmers and ranchers to have portability while maintaining access to the internet. In the palm of their hand, operators use mobile devices to combine cell phones, web browsers, and portable media players as they go about their daily business.

“We are seeing people getting away from using a laptop to using an iPad or some type of tablet device,” says Poland. “More farmers and ranchers are using smart phones with everything in them– internet access, voice communication, a camera– all in one piece of equipment. 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, and more.”

It’s possible that operators responding to the survey are not drawing a distinction between computers and the mobile devices. Nonetheless, Poland believes Oregon agriculture’s percentages in many categories may be even higher than reported.

Another area not touched by the survey is the growing use of social media. Poland has no doubt that farmers and ranchers in Oregon are increasingly taking advantage of the two-way communication capability of such tools as Facebook and Twitter.

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 website provides a tremendous amount of information to both the agricultural community and the general public. ODA is also hoping someday to provide online transactions for such things as license renewals and payments.

In nearly all categories found in the survey, the west region once again 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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