A Shorter Leap

Fact: Americans in rural areas of the country trail their urban counterparts in broadband adoption. We are all aware of the barriers. Rural communities face limited broadband access to carriers, a lack of choices, and generally higher prices than other areas of the country.

But help may be on the way. Presi­dent Obama’s economic stimulus package sets aside an estimated $7 billion to fund broadband grants that target unserved and underserved areas, primarily residents in rural and remote areas that large broadband providers have been slow to connect because of deployment costs. Building out broadband to these areas will help plug them into the world’s new communication network, not to mention create new jobs and opportunities in rural communities.

With broadband back in the news, it reminded me how far e-technology adoption has come in agriculture since I joined CropLife’s parent company, Meister Media Worldwide (MMW), in the mid-1990s. Take e-mail for instance. I was an editor for Greenhouse Grower magazine when MMW first implemented a companywide e-mail system. You talk about a technology upgrade that actually improves your job performance, e-mail was it.

In addition to in-person and phone interviews, editors now had the invaluable option to use e-mail to communicate with their sources. Unfortunately, sources who actually had e-mail themselves at the time were few and far between, limited mostly to academia and a handful of greenhouse suppliers. Growers were still years away from using e-mail, relying primarily on phone and fax communications to conduct their business operations.

That has changed completely. Today, e-mail is an everyday tool for growers to stay connected with their suppliers and customers. Most couldn’t live without it. In fact, many of those same growers who didn’t have e-mail 10 to 15 years ago are now receiving multiple e-newsletters every week (and in some cases sending their own) to stay current on the latest industry news and trends.

Internet usage has also jumped leaps and bounds. In 2002, I moved on from my Greenhouse Grower gig to become the editor of the Crop Protection Handbook, one of Meister’s long-standing reference guides. My primary task was to develop a Web component to supplement the Handbook’s printed version. We invested a lot of time and money into an online, fully searchable database of crop protection products and suppliers. Yet when push came to shove, the majority of the Handbook’s users still preferred the phonebook-style directory over the electronic format. The timing still wasn’t right.

That was then, this is now. Inter­net usage, particularly by ag dealers, is starting to catch up to its print counterpart. According to a recent survey by the CropLife Media Group, 80% of ag dealers access the Internet for work every day. Furthermore, 40% of them are online one to three hours or more a day, and another 36% are using mobile devices to access the Internet.

These survey numbers, coupled with the broadband provisions in the latest stimulus package, make the leap to e-technology a whole lot shorter than ever before. As the new online editor of the CropLife Media Group, I’m excited to be a part of it.

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