The days are over when farmers could take or leave the option of using digital technology. Increasingly, government agencies around the world are working on the basis that all correspondence plus the implementation of their various support and regulatory schemes must be exclusively web focused.
An excellent example of this is the recent launch of the new Dairy Margin Protection Programme by the US Government. Every aspect of this new initiative will be delivered using digital technology, including the use of smart phone apps and the myriad new lap top and other IT options.
Here in Ireland, the Department of Agriculture is already encouraging farmers to submit applications for the various agri-schemes on line. No doubt, this option may well be made mandatory in the not too distant future. Reflecting back on the recent Farm Modernisation Programmes in Northern Ireland, it is worth pointing out that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) gave preference to those applications made online.
Farmers in Ireland are not luddites – far from it in fact. For example, farmers and agricultural contractors were among the first professional groupings to make use of mobile phones a decade or so ago. But there is a world of difference between making a phone call, or sending a text, and fully utilising the digital technology that is now available on modern computer systems and smart phones.
It is my strong belief that being familiar with and comfortable within the digital space will be as important for farmers moving forward as is the price they receive for their milk, beef, lamb or cereals. I am also aware that farmers over 40 will have missed out completely on the IT skills training opportunities received by their children in school.
This being the case there is an onus on the Department of Agriculture and Teagasc to make funding available, courtesy of the new Rural Development Programme, to ensure that every farmer in Ireland – irrespective of age – has the opportunity to reap the full reward of the digital revolution.