E-Farming catching on

By Mike Linn

While many use the Internet as an electronic maze of MP3 piracy and chat room gossip, some are using the new technology to save money harvesting crops and peddling produce — trades that date back to the beginning of man.
Just ask local farmer Sheri Jorde, who said she has saved thousands of dollars securing sales of crops with the help of a some jpeg files and a double-click happy index finger.
Jorde, who farms in both Roosevelt and Curry Counties, said she’s embraced the habit of taking pictures of her crops — then e-mailing the photos to prospective buyers before spending over $10,000 to ship produce that may be rejected.
“In the past we would ship out loads and if our buyers didn’t like them and would reject them that meant we got nothing for our produce,” Jorde said. “So now we go to the field, take lots of pictures of produce and e-mail them to buyers first. If they’re not happy we wait; we won’t loose money on the entire load.”
Nearly half of the 2 million farms in the United States are connected to the Internet, more than triple the number in 1997, an Agriculture Survey reveals.
The survey, based on responses from 26,400 farms nationwide, found that 54 percent of all farmers own or rent computers.
But the agriculture experts said that growth is slowing now, partly because some farmers are unwilling to use the computer to help run business.
“A lot of them don’t trust computers,” said Mark Aitken, an Agriculture Department statistician. “I think there’s still a lot of your smaller farms out there that basically do their bookkeeping in a shoe box under the bed.”
According to local agriculture experts, the benefits of the Internet make farming — at least certain aspects of it — much easier.
“Farmers can access the Internet for information, and sometimes they can get market reports fairly quickly,” said Floyd McAlister, the Roosevelt County ag. extension agent.
Other benefits include round-the-clock weather updates and information on the latest research on farming chemicals, Jorde said.
Farmers also can use the net to lock in sale prices months before the crops are ready for harvest, and apply for government subsidies and farm programs.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.