Utah farmers are harvesting the Internet
Ranchers at Grouse Creek live in such an isolated area of Box Elder County that they have to send their children away to friends or relatives in neighboring towns to attend high school.
The isolation and large herds of cattle are reason enough for the cowboys to use computers in their work.
"Our financial records have gone from a notebook in our shirt pocket to a computer at home," said Brent Tanner, a partner with his two brothers in Della Ranches. "We also keep track of our livestock on computers, the same way any business would do in tracking their inventory. Computers are an important part of what we do."
The Tanner family isn't alone in the number of Utah farmers connecting to the Internet.
Utah farms lead the nation in computer access, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Eight-five percent of Utah farmers now have computer access, compared to 65 percent of their national counterparts. And, more Utah farmers and ranchers are becoming wired.
During the past two years, the number of Utah farms connected to the Internet increased by 14 percent, compared to a 1 percent increase nationally, according to a September report by the USDA's Utah Field Office.
Utah also ranks second highest in the nation in percent of farms with Internet access, at 79 percent, compared to 62 percent of farms nationwide. And, again, Utah farmers are embracing the Internet at a faster pace than their national counterparts. During the past two years, the number of wired state farms increased by 14 percent, compared to a 3 percent increase nationwide.
John Hilton, director of the Utah Field Office, said state farmers may have better access to computers because many operations are located close enough to urban areas that they can connect to the Internet, or they have access to a library computer when they drive to town. It's also reasonable to assume that Utah's high birthrate and large family size means that farmers' children are computer literate, perhaps becoming examples to their parents on what computers can do.
"Most schools, urban and rural, have computers," he said. "Farm kids certainly are using computers."
The Internet frees up more time for the Tanner brothers to ride the range, comprised of private, state and federal lands totaling 192,000 acres in northwestern Utah and southern Idaho.
When a spouse or neighbor goes into town, the Tanners can look up, say, equipment parts and telephone in the number to dealers.
"That way, we get exactly what we need," said Tanner. "Not something that looks similar to our wives."
The Tanners also feed their livestock, using computer records. Feed formulas are punched in for each animal, ensuring better health for the herd. And each head that becomes ill or experiences other health issues is duly noted via computers.
In central Utah, rancher Blake Garrett has used a computer to keep records on his 225-cow herd for more than a decade.
"I don't do anything fancy on the computer," he said. "It just got too hard to keep track of all my stuff when I had it in a shoebox."
Garrett began using a computer by taking an extension class offered by Snow College. Garrett, 62, said he's comfortable on the Internet, but acknowledges that his daughter and five sons are much more computer literate.
In Beaver County, Bruce Brown relies on computers for his Hi Hope Cattle Company, and alfalfa farm. He checks hay and prices, researches information on grain seeds, and orders parts over the Internet.
"If I need something, I don't have to rely on finding something locally," he said. "I've also sold some heifers to out-of-state buyers over the Internet."
Brown, 61, says his son Trent, 33, is much better using computers, but "I'm pretty good too."
Despite the high numbers of farmers using computers, there are holdouts.
In Davis County, farmerBill Rigby says he doesn't need the Internet "because everything I need to know is in my head."
Rigby, 81, has been farming the same land in Centerville that's been in the hands of his family since the 1850s. Because of urban growth, however, the acreage is much smaller. Rigby, who grows cucumbers, melons, squash, sweet corn and tomatoes, says he likes "the old fashioned way of booking. And when I sell something, I make out a sales slip, and that's about it."
Rigby sells his produce through Winegar's and Dick's grocery stores and at a farmers market in Kaysville. He doesn't advertise on the Internet, but customers can find his address through a website featuring farm produce stands, maintained by Utah State University.
Utah farms lead nation in computer use
More farmers are using computers, compared with two years ago. Among the findings:
Computer access • Utah > 85 percent, up from 71 percent. National average > 65 percent, up from 64 percent.
Own or lease computers • Utah > 77 percent, up from 66 percent. National average > 63 percent, up from 61 percent.
Farms with Internet access • Utah > ranks No. 2 with 79 percent, up from 65 percent. National average > 62 percent, up from 59 percent.
Use computers for farm business • Utah > 48 percent, up from 36 percent. National average > 37 percent, up from 36 percent.
Source: USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Utah Field Office
Farmers, make sure you're counted
The National Agricultural Statistics Service is asking farmers to contact the agency now so they may be a part of the 2012 Census of Agriculture to help with farm services and community planning.
Officials say that all farmers need to be counted, regardless of the size of the operation. By law, the information is kept confidential, and will not be disclosed to any other governmental agency or private entity.
Operators including women and minorities are encouraged to contact the Utah NASS Field Office to provide their names, addresses and phone numbers to ensure they receive a census form.
To enter contact information, call 800-747-8522, fax 801-524-3090, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, mail to P.O. Box 25007, Salt Lake City, UT 84125-9907 or go online to http://www.agcounts.usda.gov/cgi-bin/counts.
Census forms will be sent out in December 2012.