An overwhelming majority (96 percent) of Australian farmers owned and used information and communication technology (ICT) assets, and 95 percent were connected to the internet.
These were among the findings of a survey conducted by Australia's Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (ABARES) from 2016 to 2017. Poll results were released to the public on November 1.
ABARES Executive Director, Dr. Steve Hatfield-Dodds, said in a media release that the report presents findings from more than 2,000 face-to-face conversations with farmers across Australia on the use of ICT.
The survey defines ICT as “all digital technologies that facilitate the electronic capture, processing, storage and exchange of information.”
“Examples of ICT used on farms range from computers and telephones through to things like GPS guided harvesting equipment,” he said. “Large farms are more likely to invest in and use ICT than their smaller counterparts.”
He cited large dairy farms as an example of a sector that has a more significant investment in sensors and monitoring technology, which has a particular use case in moving towards a fully automated milking system.
"It is evident that new equipment and the data it generates are changing how farms are managed,” Hatfield-Dodds commented.
Across all industries, record keeping was the most commonly reported use of ICT assets, and over 80 percent of farms now use ICT for this purpose. ICT’s widespread use was also seen in operating equipment and managing production (80 percent), information gathering (61 percent) and in marketing and managing contracts (61 percent).
“Farmers also reported using ICT to access free software, online tools, and apps. The most commonly reported use of freeware was for checking the weather—mainly the Bureau of Meteorology and other weather apps,” the survey noted.
A third of farmers, however, reported that their access to the internet was impeding the uptake of new ICT tools.
Despite this, the report noted that "the vast majority of Australian farms are now connected to the internet (95 percent of farms surveyed).
"This estimate is consistent with ABS data, which indicated that 91 percent of agriculture, forestry, and fishery businesses were connected to the internet in 2015–16, up from 66 percent in 2007–08 and 18 percent in 1998–99 (ABS 2000, 2009, 2017a)," the report explained.
Other reported obstacles to ICT use in farms include the cost and availability of useful new technologies.
“New ICT will be fundamental to the next wave of productivity growth in Australian agriculture,” said Hatfield-Dodds. “The use of digital agriculture in Australia has the potential to increase productivity through optimizing input use, more timely decision-making, labor savings, and improved market access.”