The farmer IT tool bag

What is the best? Do I need to buy? Any farmer deciding on what technology to use on the farm will know it can be a difficult and often costly decision to make. The ramifications of getting it wrong could, at best result in wasted money, or worse leave you in a more difficult position than when you started.

Broadband internet access – “I can’t get it…yes you can!”

Before I hear you shout “I am in the countryside and I can’t get broadband!” I have yet to find a farmer in Northern Ireland that can’t get broadband. If you live close enough to a BT exchange you can get broadband down your telephone line (ASDL). If fibre broadband (FTTC) is available even better, the small increase in cost is outweighed by the huge improvement in performance.

WiMAX is a wireless technology which can give you broadband access at prices similar to phone line based broadband. Contact Northwest electronics (02871 351999) or Net1 (0845 5576036) for more information about coverage and costs.

Another option is broadband provider Onwave (0845 4340434) which can connect you via their satellite network. It will be more expensive, but the cost of no broadband will be greater.

The computer – keep it simple!

The best computer for you may be a desktop, laptop or tablet. All these devices will do some jobs very well but will not be so good at others. Pick a device that meets your needs. The computer will be your workhorse running your applications (farm management software, word processing etc) and storing your data. The most basic PC will have enough power to carry out all your business jobs, therefore, splash out on a bigger screen, but keep other specifications to a minimum to reduce costs. Make sure you have a robust backup system such as an external hard drive. Hardware fails and thefts happen.

Your Smartphone – iPhone or Android? It doesn’t really matter!

Your Smartphone can keep you connected while you are away from the farm. Use it for web browsing, email, banking, watching your farm, DARD Online services, and more. Choose a provider which gives you the best coverage. Mobile coverage has improved and staff at CAFRE’s hill farm were able to use Smartphones to watch the cattle calving this year.

Applications – software gets thing done!

Software will help you collect and store information, make management decisions and assess the performance of your business. The software is the link between data going in and useful information coming out. For most this means a dedicated farm software package. These packages are designed to meet your needs.  Visit http://www.dardni.gov.uk/agricultural-software.htm for more information about the software packages available.

Optional extras – going the extra mile!

Once you have covered the basics you may find yourself wanting more. Have you considered using EID to aid data collection, adding IP cameras to aid watching animals, feeding your dairy cows to yield, automatically weighing your animals? These IT systems can make it easier to capture, analyse and report information about your business. I find the easier something is to do the more likely it will be done.

Training – making it all work!

Having all the gear and no idea how it works is best avoided. Nothing beats experience. If you are looking for a starting point the ‘Fastrack to Information Technology’ (FIT) training programme is a free service available to all farm businesses in Northern Ireland. The FIT programme is designed to support farm businesses by offering basic computer awareness training. Contact Anne Maria Bell, Farm Family Options (0845 026 7534) for more details.

By Ronan Coll of the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Email [email protected]