sealPurdue News

February 1998

Farmers find Internet latest way to talk over the fence

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Surveys show that farmers haven't grabbed hold of the Internet to the extent that the general population has, but many in agriculture expect that to change as the benefits of linking rural farms and businesses electronically becomes more apparent.

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David Petritz, assistant director of Purdue University's Cooperative Extension Programs, says that despite the survey numbers, the Internet is rapidly becoming an important tool for farmers, thanks in large part to the cooperative spirit of farming.

"Farm producers have always learned from each other," he says. "E-mail and chat boards are just another means of talking across the fence. The farmers will post queries on-line: 'Where did you get those slats? How do they work? How do you connect this yield monitor in an IHC combine?'

"Now the coffee shop table has extended to as far as the telephone lines stretch."

In addition to which type of seed they prefer, Petritz says, farmers also are now sharing favorite URLs. "Farmers are quickly learning from each other as to what works and what does not with computers and software. They are also finding the best Web sites and plugging in," he says.

According to a 1997 U.S. Department of Agriculture study, 31 percent of the farmers nationally have computers in their homes, 20 percent use them for their farm businesses, and 13 percent use the Internet.

In a state-by-state breakdown, Internet access among farmers ranged from a low of 4 percent in Louisiana and Mississippi to a high of 31 percent in New Jersey.

The survey reported that 10 percent of Indiana farmers use the Internet. The survey also found that 37 percent of Indiana farmers have computers, but only 16 percent of the Hoosier farmers use their computers for their farm business.

Petritz says that the rapidly changing world of the Internet makes such surveys difficult to interpret. "I sense a larger proportion of farmers are using the Internet than we suspect," he says. "I am not saying the survey results are incorrect, but things are changing so quickly that it can be difficult to get a snapshot of it. I suspect that the low price of computers in the past several months has led to a sharp increase in purchases."

According to the USDA survey, farm income seemed to have only a slight effect on Internet access among farmers in the North Central region. Twelve percent of farms with incomes of less that $10,000 had Internet access, compared to 10 percent of farms with incomes of $10,000 to $100,000, and 17 percent of farms with incomes of more than $100,000.

Also in the North Central region, 13 percent of crop farms and 11 percent of livestock farms had Internet access.

Because the number of people who are using the Internet is changing rapidly, Hubert "Buster" Dunsmore, associate professor of computer science at Purdue, says it can be difficult to get a handle on precise numbers. "We know that worldwide we passed the 100 million users mark in December of last year," he says. "And we estimate that two-thirds of the users are here in the United States. So right now our best guess is that between 15 percent and 25 percent of the general population in the United States is using the Internet."

Petritz says that in the near future, farmers will find more reasons for using the Internet. "Agribusiness is increasingly using Web sites for ads and information," he says. "Here's one way the Internet may change farm life: One of the least favorite chores on the farm is the 'parts run.' What if John Deere or Caterpillar put their parts catalog on the Web? All the farmer would need to do would be to check that site, find the model of the machine, locate the part that is needed, and then order the part by the Internet. Federal Express brings the part the next day, or somebody drives to town to pick up the part that's waiting at the parts counter."

Besides changing agribusiness, the Internet also is changing how institutions such as the Cooperative Extension Service do their jobs. "The challenge for the Extension Service is to be part of the race to provide information," Petritz says. "We're working hard to see that research-based, scientifically reviewed material is available on the Internet along with all of the hype and spin."

Much of the information once available only through handout publications and Extension meetings now is only a mouse click away, he says. For example, his Purdue Agriculture and Natural Resources Web site ( has agricultural information on weather, pest management, and a guide to Purdue crop and livestock Web sites from aquaculture to wheat. It also covers coping with natural disasters and features links to 4-H and consumer and family science information.

Unlike other universities that tend to define their Web pages by department, Purdue Agriculture has created commodity-based pages. The Purdue Pork Page Web site ( includes economic information from livestock market analysts, financial planners and other agricultural economists. Animal scientists and veterinarians provide guidance on manure disposal, herd health and breeding. Other commodity pages include A Corngrowers Guidebook, a Poultry page and a Dairy page. There even is one dedicated to plant pests. All of them can be found through the Purdue Agriculture and Natural Resources site.

Not all of the Purdue Internet farm resources are Web-based. A few, such as Ag Answers, offer free e-mail delivery of information to producers and others. Ag Answers, a cooperative project between Purdue and Ohio State universities, sends Extension information to farmers in both Indiana and Ohio and covers crop conditions, marketing advice and insect and disease updates.

Sources: David Petritz, (765) 494-8494; e-mail,
Hubert "Buster" Dunsmore, (765) 494- 1996; e-mail,,
Writer: Steve Tally, (765) 494-9809; e-mail,;
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Some of the links at the Purdue Pork Page on the World Wide Web are: Hot Topics; Animal Well-Being; Environment; Genetics; Growth; Health; Housing; Management; Manure; Economics and Marketing; Nutrition; Pork Quality; Public Relations; and Reproduction. The Web site is at (Purdue Agricultural Communications Service graphic by Russ Merzdorf.)
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