This e-book from European Federation for Information Technologies in Agriculture, Food and the Environment (EFITA), the Samuel Neaman Institute for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Center for Agricultural Economic Research is a collection of articles and case studies on information and communication technology (ICT) and farming. According to the authors, the objective of the book is to avoid the costly penalties of unfocused ICT development - specifically, lost money and misdirected scarce human capital. The book provides initial expectations, results, and lessons in various areas of agriculture, rural ICT development, and its implementation. According to the introduction: "The development and adoption of ICT in agriculture provides an illuminating case study of technological innovation with many lessons which are applicable beyond agricultural production and this sector....The following chapters provide a[n]... overview of the introduction and adoption of ICT into a diverse industry which ranges from small, part time business which are relatively under developed to large agri-businesses which are competing in world markets."
The history of software introduction in the agricultural sector is reviewed, showing slow acceptance due to farmers' perceptions of low benefits for the expense and effort of data entry. In the United Kingdom (UK), for example, growth of computer use in agriculture has come through increasing statutory requirements for data, especially related to tracking, mapping, and quality assurance, such as the demand on the part of buyers for information on the provenance of food. Use of email is increasing the presence of ICT in agriculture, according to the document, as well as use of information updating services like price and market reports and weather reports. The document suggests that e-commerce has not yet fulfilled expectations and has raised some doubts due to unsuccessful ventures. However, there are smaller scale trading sites in agriculture and horticulture, according to the document, "focussed on niche products often in the organic or ‘green’ sector where the demographics of internet users tend to favour this type of trading. Typically these businesses already operate mail order delivery which means that fulfilment, the other major obstacle to successful e-trading, is already in place. There is undoubtedly a place for e-trading in agriculture, its fragmented structure, relatively dispersed trading community and consequently inefficient supply chains mean that there is ample scope to reduce costs and improve service levels. The increasing acceptance of the internet as a business tool by the rural community and by the supply trade will also drive progress in this direction."
The document discusses the potential of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping to support a method called Precision Farming, which uses mapping to identify types and levels of application of fertilisers or spray regimens for optimal crop yields. Several chapters analyse the uses and limitations of decision support systems, which can handle large amounts of information, apply relevant parameters, and suggest a course of action, but, as stated here, cannot apply common sense. "Typical applications to date have included pest management in grain stores, arable crop disease control, and grass seed mixture formulation."
According to the document, factors affecting ICT uptake include: the degree of external support, the network of other users, possible lack of training and concerns over ease of use, degree of ‘friendliness’, and lack of perceived benefit. In analysing the "benefit versus effort" factor of farmer uptake of ICT, the author recommends the use of highly knowledgeable designers, who understand the software design business, to develop systems which demonstrate what is possible and what is likely to be required. The next step is refinement by real users. "The advantage of this approach is that systems can be put in place very quickly and refined ‘in situ’ by users who can express their needs in terms of modifications or extras to an existing system..."
Development Gateway dgCommunities website accessed on June 24 2008.