New information and communications technology (ICT) could deliver the next wave of productivity growth in Australian agriculture. ICT includes all digital technologies that facilitate the electronic capture, processing, storage and exchange of information. To better understand the role of ICT in Australian agriculture and potential barriers to its use, ABARES surveyed over 2,200 farmers in 2016–17. Results from this survey are presented here for broadacre, dairy and vegetable farms.
- The overwhelming majority (96 per cent) of Australian farmers owned and used ICT assets, and 95 per cent were connected to the internet.
- Farmers used ICT for production activities, internet commerce, obtaining information and household purposes.
- Larger farms were more likely to invest in and use ICT than their smaller counterparts.
- ICT assets represented a relatively small share of total capital assets on most farms—this technology likely performs an enabling role to make other assets more productive and lift overall business efficiency.
- ICT applications on farms varied between industries. For example, GPS-enabled technologies are widely used on vegetable and grain farms, and electronic identification and herd management tools are commonly used on dairy farms.
- Reported obstacles to adoption of ICT included skills, internet access, cost and availability of useful new technologies. The relative importance of these constraints varied with industry and farm size. For example, a lack of skills was most commonly reported as an impediment by the owners of small farms, particularly those in the livestock industry.
- The availability and quality of internet services influences farmers’ access to and use of ICT. Farmers in relatively remote areas using mobile phone or satellite-based internet connections were more likely to report inadequate internet access as an impediment to their use of ICT and to the operation of their businesses more generally.
Internet commerce allows the purchase of goods or services quickly and conveniently and is increasingly available to farmers to make and receive orders online. Our survey results show over 40 per cent farms reported using the internet to receive orders or purchase inputs. For farms receiving orders, on average 15 per cent of farm income was generated through the internet. For farms using the internet to purchase inputs, on average 20 per cent of non-capital inputs (that is, chemicals, seeds, livestock) were purchased through the internet. Large farms more commonly reported using the internet for commerce than small farms and also reported using it to generate a higher proportion of their orders and inputs. Over 50 per cent of large farms (those with receipts over $1 million) reported using the internet to make or receive orders, compared with a third of small farms (those with receipts less than $400,000).
Social media is commonly used to develop a company image, market products and communicate with customers (ABS). Relatively few farms reported having a web presence (6 per cent), or a social media presence (5 per cent) or both (2 per cent). The limited online presence of farms was also observed by the ABS —across all sectors of the economy, agriculture, forestry and fishing had the lowest proportion of businesses with a web presence in 2015–16 (12 per cent, compared with 50 per cent of all businesses) and the lowest proportion of businesses with a social media presence (11 per cent, compared with 38 per cent of all businesses).
Farms generally produce bulk commodities, which limits opportunities for direct sales through an online presence. The grains industry reported the highest share of income generated through the internet, but has very low online presence (see chart below). This likely reflects the use of online trading platforms for selling grain, which do not require farms to have an online presence. The limited use of the internet for generating sales of bulk goods also seems to be reflected in the mining industry, where only 24 per cent of orders were received via the internet in 2015–16, even though 63 per cent of mining businesses had a web presence (ABS 2017a). There may be more opportunities for marketing niche products through the internet. The vegetable and livestock industries reported the highest proportion of farms with an online presence. For the vegetable industry, this is likely to reflect direct sales and engagement with customers through farmers markets, which accounted for 12 per cent of vegetables sales in 2016–17. In the beef and sheep industries, farms selling stud livestock were more likely to have an online presence. Just under half of beef and sheep farms that generated more than 10 per cent of sales from stud animals had an online presence. In comparison, less than 10 per cent of farms selling a smaller proportion of stock as studs had an online presence.