ALMOST A third of farmers who have an Internet connection go online using a high-speed connection — either a satellite, fixed wireless, DSL or cable connection — according to a USDA survey reported in mid-2005. The other two-thirds (69% to be exact) use a dial-up connection.

Both figures are cut in half when compared with the universe of total farms, since only 51% of farmers responding to the survey said they connect to the Internet.

Income and age

The USDA survey shows that income has a big effect on whether a farm has a broadband connection. Other surveys show that the owner's age and whether school-age children are at home also have a large bearing on whether a rural household has a broadband connection.

The USDA survey shows that farmers with Internet connections who earn $250,000 or more (the highest income breakout in the survey) are the most likely to have a high-speed connection. About 40% of that group has a high-speed connection. At income levels below that amount, high-speed Internet connectivity gradually falls to 28% for those earning less than $10,000. In addition, crop farmers are more likely to have high-speed connection than livestock producers, 33% compared to 29%, respectively.

Other surveys looking at high-speed Internet adoption in the rural U.S. also show that the more a household earns, the more likely it is to have a high-speed Internet connection. A recent survey in Minnesota, for example, reports that more than half of rural households earning more than $75,000 annually have a high-speed Internet connection. At income levels below that amount, high-speed Internet adoption falls from 30% for incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 to about 11% for incomes below $25,000.

The same survey, which was conducted by the Center for Rural Policy and Development, shows that households headed by persons 55 years old and younger are far more likely to have a high-speed connection than those who are older. For example, about a third of households headed by those who are 36 to 55 years old have high-speed connections in rural Minnesota, compared to 19% for those 56 to 64 years of age.

Having school-age children at home more than doubles the likelihood of having a high-speed connection. Among those with school-age children at home, 45.2% have a high-speed connection, compared to 21.5% for those without, the survey showed.

More time online, but for what?

Online use tends to be higher for those with broadband connections than for those with dial-up connections. The Minnesota survey reports that members of rural households with broadband connections spend 14.7 hours per week online, compared with 8.2 hours for dial-up households.

That matches anecdotal evidence. Many farmers with high-speed connections confirm that they spend more time online, and that their online time is spent more productively, than when they had a dial-up connection.

“Our customers tell us that when they had a dial-up connection, they were online seven times a week,” says Kip Pendleton of Agristar Global Networks, which markets a satellite-based high-speed Internet service to farmers. “They tell us they are online 28 times a week with their high-speed connection.”

So what are farmers doing online? The USDA survey shows that about 9% of farmers purchase agricultural inputs and conduct marketing activities online. About 4% conduct business with USDA via a Web site, and 26% conduct business with a nonagricultural Web site or sites.

Higher-income farmers conduct more business on the Internet than average. Of those earning $250,000 or more, 18% purchase agricultural inputs over the Internet, 23% conduct marketing activities, 12% conduct business with USDA via a Web site and 43% conduct business with a nonagricultural Web site or sites.