AMES, Iowa — As Internet coverage and access improve in rural areas, more Iowa farmers are making use of this information source in their farming operations, according to the 2011 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll.
The 2011 poll included several questions on whether farmers have access to and use high-speed Internet service, the types of information they access and the sources of that information.
Results from the annual poll are available in the 2011 Summary Report, PM 3016, which can be downloaded at no cost from the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Online Store, www.extension.iastate.edu/store/.
“Expansion of high-speed Internet coverage in rural areas has been a priority in recent years, and we wanted to learn more about how farmers access and use the Internet, especially broadband,” said ISU Extension Sociologist J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., who co-directs the survey with ISU Extension Sociologist Paul Lasley.
Arbuckle said 1,276 farmers participated in the poll. On average, the participating farmers were 65 years old, and 51 percent earned more than half of their income from farming.
“We gave farmers a list of options and asked them to indicate whether they had access to high-speed Internet. We also asked them to select all the ways that they access the Internet, so in numerous cases farmers reported more than one source of access,” Arbuckle said.
“Sixty percent of Farm Poll participants reported that they use high-speed Internet service. When we accounted for multiple forms of access, 70 percent of farmers reported that they use the Internet,” Arbuckle said.
The most common means of access, at 27 percent, was through a digital subscriber line (DSL) service. Fourteen percent of farmers reported accessing broadband through a satellite service, 13 percent through a wireless/cell phone service and 12 percent through cable. Twelve percent reported that they accessed the Internet over a standard telephone line.
“Only 14 percent of the farmers reported that they did not have access to high-speed Internet. In fact, the percentage of farmers who reported that they had access to high-speed Internet where they live, but chose not to use it — 21 percent — is significantly higher than the proportion who indicated that they lack access,” Arbuckle said.
The last decade or so has seen an explosion of agriculture-related websites as farm magazines, agribusinesses, farm groups, conservation agencies and organizations, and other entities have increased their Internet presence and content. So in the 2011 poll farmers were asked about the types of farming-related information they accessed via the Internet, as well as how often they accessed information from a number of agriculture-related agencies and organizations. These questions focused only on the 70 percent of farmers who indicated that they used the Internet, Arbuckle explained.
Eighty-four percent of farmers who use the Internet have used it to get information on the weather, and 72 percent do so at least weekly. Most farmers who use the Internet also access market information (78 percent), general agricultural news (75 percent) and information about crop production (68 percent), and many do so on a fairly regular basis, Arbuckle said.
Fifty-five percent of farmers reported that they use the Internet for information on farm financial management, as well as pest management. Fifty-one percent reported that they seek information on soil and water conservation. However, farmers use the Internet for these types of information less frequently, with most reporting that they access these types of information less than once a month, Arbuckle added.
“Only 39 percent of farmers accessed livestock production information. However, as you would expect, among farmers who raise livestock the percentage was higher, with 71 percent reporting using the Internet for livestock-related information,” he said.
Farmers also were asked to indicate how often they access information online from several agencies and organizations that provide information and technical assistance on agricultural production and conservation.
ISU Extension and Outreach was selected by more Internet users than any other option, with 47 percent of farmers indicating that they use Extension and Outreach at least periodically. Farm magazines were second, at 44 percent, followed by farm groups at 39 percent, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship at 36 percent and the Farm Service Agency at 32 percent, Arbuckle said.
Less than 30 percent of farmers reported that they use the Internet to get information from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Iowa Department of Natural Resources or county conservation boards.
The 2011 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll focused on a range of issues that are important not only to agriculture but to all Iowans, Arbuckle said. The 2011 survey also examined farmers’ views on climate change, conservation issues, investment in agricultural drainage and their perspectives on reducing the federal deficit and balancing the budget.
Conducted every year since its establishment in 1982, the Farm and Rural Life Poll is the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation, Arbuckle said. ISU Extension and Outreach, the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Agricultural Statistics Service are all partners in the Farm Poll effort.
The 2011 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll summary report and previous summary and topical reports are available to download from the ISU Extension and Outreach Online Store (store.extension.iastate.edu/) and Extension Sociology (www.soc.iastate.edu/extension/farmpoll.html).