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Figures show farming tech gap

AT a time of national debate over the future of telecommunications in the bush, recently published figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that Western Australian farmers are ahead of the pack when it comes to IT use for their business.Across WA, 59 per cent of farms use the Internet for their business, while 68 per cent were reported as using a computer for their business needs.Nationally, these figures were 55 per cent and 47 per cent respectively.The proportion of the state’s farms using computers also increased marginally, by 1 per cent, since the last survey in 2002-03. The proportion of all WA farms using the Internet remained steady at 59 per cent, however.In a breakdown of WA’s nine regional areas, six reported over 60 per cent of farms using the Internet for their business operations over the 2003-04 period.The highest proportion of Internet usage for WA was reported in the Pilbara, with 72 per cent of farms, the second highest in the nation behind north-west Queensland, which reported 77 per cent.Generally, the most remote areas of Australia recorded higher proportions of farms using the Internet, while farms situated closer to Australia’s capital cities having lower Internet use, the ABS report said.“This helps to explain why WA has been leading the nation,” an ABS spokesman said. Asked whether much federal government interest had been shown in the figures from a policy perspective, he said that “other government agencies had certainly had some input into putting the figures together”, but that the ABS could not say whether they would be used for “policy purposes”. A federal government-proposed $2 billion telecommunications future fund is proposed to finance the expected Internet telecom-munications needs of the bush, with the aim of smoothing the path for the full privatisation of Telstra. The Pilbara also reported the highest incidence of farms using a computer for their business operations in the nation, with 81 per cent using the machines. Internet activity for WA was dominated by email, with 52 per cent of farms using the service, and for finding information about the weather, at 50 per cent. When not logged onto the Internet, the state’s farmers used their computers mainly for managing finances, with 60 per cent of respondents reporting this as the major activity. The report also found the pattern of computer use in broad industry groups varied considerably across states and territories. In the farming sector of livestock other than cattle, sheep, dairy and poultry farming (pigs, horses), WA had the highest occurrence of computer usage at 80 per cent, as well as in the dairy sector with 70 per cent. For the lowest valued farms surveyed, (worth less than $50,000) 44 per cent used computers and 37 per cent used the Internet. The national average for this sized farm was 38 per cent and 31 per cent in that order.

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