Winter 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 4 // Research in Brief // 4RIB1

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Farmers Use On-Line Info Services


W. Wade Miller
Associate Professor
Department of Agricultural Education and Studies
Iowa State University-Ames

Annette C. Elliot
Research Assistant
Department of Agricultural Education and Studies
Iowa State University-Ames

Julia A. Gamon
Assistant Professor
Department of Agricultural Education and Studies
Iowa State University-Ames

On-line agricultural information services, also known as remote database services, allow access to information stored in mainframe computers by use of the telephone linked to microcomputers or computer terminals. Doane's Agricultural Software Directory1 lists 25 public and commercial services of interest to farmers or those involved in other agricultural activities such as marketing, education, or Extension. At least seven of the services listed are sponsored or used by Extension. Most services provide information such as commodity prices, weather forecasts, and technical reports that help farmers in their managerial decision making.

For Extension professionals to help their clients make the best use of on-line agricultural information services, it's helpful for them to know what they are, what kind of information they provide, how they're presently being used by farmers, and what farmers perceive to be the important features of such systems. To answer these questions, farmers who subscribe to AgriData Network, a nationwide service, were surveyed.

The population consisted of all the farmer subscribers of AgriData Network in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. A random sample of 111 farmers was sent a mailed survey form. After one follow-up, a total of 56 (51.9%) usable questionnaires were returned for analysis.

Table 1. Different types of information used on-line.

Type of information
Percent using
Number of
times used
Mean number
of minutes used
Market information 75% 14.1 7.5
Agricultural news 71 8.5 5.4
Farm business and
management information



Agricultural production



Weather 39 5.2 2.9

Table 2. Importance of information of on-line services.

Information Mean rating1 Standard deviation
Commodity futures market prices 4.28 .93
Commodity cash prices 3.91 1.10
Commodity reports 3.89 1.15
National agricultural news 3.77 .85
Agricultural outlook information 3.75 .85
Farm business management information 3.57 .87
State agricultural news 3.36 .88
International agricultural news 3.36 .96
National weather and forecasts 3.02 .97
State weather and forecasts 3.02 1.12
Agricultural production information 2.98 1.08
International weather and forecasts 2.96 .94
Financial reports 2.87 1.04
11 = no importance, 5 = utmost importance.


Farmers used the service most frequently to obtain market information (Table 1) and they spent a longer time logged on in obtaining that type of information than any of the other types listed.

Farmers rated the importance of 13 specific types of information available to them on an on-line agricultural information service using a one-to-five scale. All of the items were rated above the midpoint (Table 2). Farmers rated various types of commodity information as most important. They also rated agricultural news and outlook information highly.

The farmers were asked to rate the importance of 11 information service features on a one-to-five scale. Frequently updated information, an always accessible telephone line, modest cost, and a toll-free number were all rated as important features -with frequently updated information rated most important. Electronic mail received the lowest rating, indicating that the farmers didn't feel that this feature was important to them.

Implications for Extension

The primary use of this on-line agricultural information service by farmers is for gaining up-to-date information, particularly for making marketing decisions. Farmers tend to limit their use of the on-line service to this broad area. However, it may be that farmers don't know about, or perceive the importance of, other types of information available from an on- line service. If this is true, then an opportunity exists for Extension personnel to help farmers use other kinds of available information. The goal is to improve decision making for all aspects of the farm business.


1. Doane's 1988 Agricultural Software Directory (St. Louis, Missouri: Doane Publishing, 1988), pp. 7-8. Editor's Note: What follows are two separate research reports on how farmers are using computer technology-and the implications for Extension.