Farming goes hi-tech, as use of Internet and precision farming technology booms

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Farmers are making greater use of the Internet and technology to run their farms, including self-steering tractors, automated feeding systems and advanced farm management software, according to the industry’s biggest independent study of how farmers run their farms.

The Agridata study, published this week, is based on nearly 500 in-depth interviews with farmers across Britain.

It found that 85% of British farms now have Internet access and nearly 40% use it daily for farm business, with a further third using it several times a week.

Accessing weather updates, technical information and market prices are the most common online activities, while education and training is the fastest-growing. More than a fifth of farms have bought or sold machinery or other products for their business online.

The study found that farmers are making increasing use of so-called “precision farming” technology, computer-controlled hardware to automate farm tasks previously done by farmworkers and giving farmers access to rich data about their farm and how it is operating.

One in five farmers now use GPS satellite systems to precisely guide their tractors and combine harvesters, many using the latest auto-steer technology which enables these GPS systems to steer machines without the need for a human operator.

17% are using electronic data delivered from abattoirs via the internet to track how much meat was produced from each animal carcass and monitor other factors such as signs of health problems in animals sent to slaughter. And 16% are using automated feeding or milking systems.

Nearly half of all farms now use specialist farm software to run their farm and keep farm records, rather than standard software such as spreadsheets, still used by 28% of farms. Only 25% still keep records using pen and paper.

While internet use is growing, farming magazines are still the most widely used information source, with 88% of farmers saying they use them regularly, followed by farm advisors (60%), agricultural shows (57%) and agricultural websites (45%).