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by J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., Iowa State University Extension

"Farmers are increasing their use of information technology devices, and for those who use them, they tend to access information to help with farming decisions," said J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., sociologist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. These findings are included in the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll: 2014 Summary Report (PM 3073).

The 2014 Farm Poll asked farmers about their use of various information technology and communication devices including basic cell phones, smartphones, computers, tablets and type of access to the Internet. The survey was completed during February and March 2014 by 1,090 Iowa farmers.

Devices with Internet access

The proportion of farmers who use a computer with high-speed Internet increased from 58 percent in 2012 to 70 percent in 2014, Arbuckle noted. Farmers' use of smartphones and tablets is rapidly increasing as well.

"Since 2012, when we last asked farmers about their use of different information technologies, use of smartphones rose from 10 percent to 30 percent. Use of tablet computers, such as iPads and Kindles, also increased, from 10 percent in 2012 to 27 percent in 2014," Arbuckle said.

Comparisons of technology use by age group showed younger farmers tended to use all technologies except basic cell phones at a higher rate than older farmers. "Sixty-four percent of farmers age 40 or under reported using a smartphone and 46 percent reported using tablets," said Arbuckle. "Among farmers in the 61- to 70-year-old category, just 29 and 25 percent of farmers reported using smartphones and tablets, respectively."

Device use for farm decision-making

Farmers were asked to estimate how often they used different devices to access information to help make farm-related decisions. "In general, if farmers indicated that they used a given technology at all, they also reported that they used it to help them make decisions about farming," noted Arbuckle. "About three-quarters of farmers who reported that they use smartphones and about two-thirds of farmers who reported use of a tablet with a cellular data plan indicated that they use them either often or very often to support farm decision-making."

Quality of life for farm families

Every two years since 1982, Farm Poll participants have been asked to evaluate quality of life, defined as "the degree of satisfaction with all aspects of life," for their families and families in their communities. In 2014, 91 percent reported that quality of life for their families either stayed the same or improved over the previous five years.

"That tied the highest level ever reported in the 32-year history of the Farm Poll," said Arbuckle. "Also, 85 percent indicated that quality of life among families in their communities had either remained the same or improved, which was the highest level ever reported on that question. A strong farm economy in the early 2010s likely buoyed perceptions of quality of life in many of Iowa's rural communities.

"That said, Farm Poll participants were less optimistic about the future," Arbuckle noted. "Nearly half of farmers predicted that economic prospects for farmers would decline over the next five years."

The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll is an annual survey of Iowa farmers that collects and disseminates information on issues of importance to rural communities across Iowa and the Midwest. It is the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation. ISU Extension and Outreach, Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Iowa Agricultural Statistics Service are partners in the Farm Poll effort.

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