In the early 1960’s Everett Rogers, then Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology at Ohio State University, suggested innovations were communicated among social systems following certain paths. He suggested four basic elements influencing the spread of innovations: the innovation itself, communication channels, time, and the social system. An innovation is an idea, practice, or object perceived as new by individuals. This idea is communicated through channels from one individual to another. Time is the period between the initial awareness and the decision to adopt that innovation. The social system is a set of interrelated units engaged in joint problem solving to accomplish a common goal. Things have changed since Rogers’ book “Diffusion of Innovations” was first published in 1962. In the 80’s the Internet started to develop becoming massively popular in the 90’s. Social media more recently added speed to communications within a social system! Where used, personal computers and the Internet may have an effect in the diffusion of innovations. They also likely shorten the time elapsed between awareness and technology adoption.  Are there any noticeable differences between computer/Internet access and farm income, and if so, would they impact farm numbers in any way?

According to the USDA approximately 67 percent of the farms in the US have nowadays Internet access, up from 62 percent in 2011 (2013 USDA-NASS Farm Computer Report). Of them 65 percent had access to a computer in 2011, increasing to 70 percent by 2013. In 2011 a total of 37 percent of the farms used computers for their farm business increasing to 40 percent by 2013. The majority of the farms with sales over $250,000 in 2013 had access to a computer 84 percent of the time. When sales were between $100,000 and $249,999 a computer was available to the farm business 56 percent of the time. When sales and government payments were from $10,000 to $99,999, computer accessibility was 45 percent. There is a sizeable and increasing difference between having or not a computer assigned to the farm and the volume of cash sales. The greater the cash sales in US farms the greater the chance they had a computer assigned to the business. The use of the Internet also increased with cash sales. Although not as strikingly different between the first two sales groups (65 vs 69 percent for $10,000- $99,999 and $100,000-$249,000, respectively), it then increased drastically between the latter group and the next at $250,000+ (69 vs 82 percent). Farms in the US that have agricultural sales greater than $250,000 had computer assigned to the business and Internet available at 84 and 82 percent of the time, respectively. Those under $100,000 in sales had computers and Internet available 45 and 65 percent of the time, respectively. Do farms with more cash sales are more prone to purchase a computer and connect to the Internet or having both available is the result of a farm being more prone to adopt technology which might increase cash sales in time?

Computer Use in South Dakota Farms

Computer access, ownership, or lease increased in South Dakota farms by almost 9% between 2011 and 2013 (Table 1). This is very significant since between 2009 and 2011 there had been no changes. Computer use in state farms is currently nearly 6% greater than the average for the country.  What is not very encouraging is the low percentage of farms in both the state and the US that use a computer for the farm business (table 2). As stated above there is a positive relationship between US computer use and farm agricultural sales. Computer use for the farm business dropped in the state from 45 to 38 percent in 2009 and 2013, respectively. This is the opposite trend observed for the US as a whole, where computer use in 2009 was 25 percent less than in South Dakota, and increased to 5.3 percent above in 2013! Internet access is relatively high for the state, and above the rest of the country (Table 2). Of the activity conducted online however very little is related to agricultural purchases both in South Dakota and the US. Online purchases of agricultural products increased in the state 30 percent since 2009 while only 23 percent for the US (Table 3). Agricultural marketing online has dropped since 2009 by 33 percent for the state and it has increased by 27 percent for the US.

Farm Computer Use by Economic Classes

The USDA NASS also analyzed in 2013 farm computer use by economic class for different US regions. Computer access and ownership in the North Central Region (NCR) and the US is in Table 4. On average the NCR has always had more computers (2.9 percent FY 2013; Table 4) than the US. When analyzing the use of a computer for the farm business the difference favoring the NCR is even greater (10 percent FY 2013; Table 5). Internet access FY 2013 seemed to be very similar for the NCR and the rest of the country with roughly 1.5 percent difference in favor of the US.

The sales group that has seen the most vulnerability to its sustainability has been the one with sales between $1,000 and $9,999. The vulnerability of this group was exemplified by it having decreased by 6.7 percent between 2013 and 2014 (Garcia. 2015. Farms and Land in Farms: Defining our audience). The use of computers for the farm business by this group has never been in South Dakota above 27 percent. Is it possible that reduced access to computer and the Internet compromise the diffusion of innovations and cutting edge technologies in this group increasing their vulnerability? Smaller farms used computers for their farm business operations 2.7 times less frequently than those farms selling more than $250,000 (Table 5). In spite of not using the computer for the farm business, 65 percent of small farms (SD and the US FY2013) still have access to the Internet. The percentage of farms using it is significantly lower than in the high sales group at 82 percent (SD and the US FY2013). 

Statistical data published by the USDA NASS in 2013 shows that on average 72 percent of South Dakota Farms own computers and have access to the Internet. From the information available it is also apparent there is an association between large volume of sales and computer and Internet use. With the information at hand it is very difficult to determine if there is causality though, that is to say if the access to information determines in any way the volume of agricultural sales. There seems to be a pattern though that shows increased vulnerability of smaller farms that have less access to computers to run the farm business and access the Internet.