Younger, large farm owners more likely to embrace new technology

Computers, smartphones, global positioning systems and auto steer have become standard equipment on many farms in Canada.

However, the rate at which producers adopt new technologies varies significantly across the country, depending on the size of the farm, the value of the goods it produces and the age of the farmer.

According to data collected in the Census of Agriculture, younger operators are more likely than older farmers to use technology such as computers, laptops, smartphones, GPS, auto steer, GIS mapping, automated animal feeding and robotic milking machines.

In addition, producers with large landholdings of 5,000 acres or more are more likely than small producers to use modern technology on their farms, as are farms with gross annual sales of $500,000 or more.

Erik Dorff, a census analyst with Statistics Canada, said the decision to invest in technology is based on a variety of factors, but primarily, investments in innovation are aimed at increasing efficiency and productivity.

“In general, farmers always have been and continue to be an incredibly innovative group,” Dorff said.

“But as sales increase, we see an increasing proportion of farmers using all of these technologies.”

In a census document entitled Growing Opportunity Through Innovation in Agriculture, Statistics Canada suggests there is a strong correlation between the age of a farm operator and his propensity to use technology on the farm.

In 2015, 57.4 percent of farm operators older than 60 years used at least one type of technology from a list that includes computers or laptops for farm management, smartphones, global positioning systems, automated steering, GIS mapping, automated animal feeding and robotic milkers.

However, among farmers younger than 40, nearly 81 percent of farmers used at least one of the listed technologies.

Similarly, 95 percent of farms with gross annual sales of $500,000 or more used at least one of the technologies compared with around 50 percent of farms that had gross annual sales of $10,000 to $25,000.

As well, nearly 95 percent of grain and oilseed producers that farmed more than 5,000 acres in 2015 were using GPS and auto steering technology to plant, manage and harvest their crops.

The Statistics Canada document also said computers and laptops are being used for farm management on 56.2 percent of Canadian farms.

That number would probably be much higher on large farms that spend more money on crop production and have larger annual sales figures, Dorff said.

Very small operators that have annual sales of a few thousand dollars may not require computers to manage inventories or track sales and expenses, he added.

At the same time, small operators are far more likely than large farmers to market their products directly to consumers.

According to Statistics Canada, more than 24,500 Canadian farms (12.7 percent) were involved in direct marketing in 2015.

Nearly 25 percent of farms with annual sales of $10,000 or less sold directly to consumers, compared with six percent of farms with annual sales of $1 million or more.

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