Internet and the Small Farmer Rancher
You Don’t Have Mail:
Ranchers Have Yet to Share on the Information Superhighway
While millions of people across the world have harnessed the
collective-thinking and knowledge spreading power of the internet, the U.S. ranching community has yet to pull
their cars onto the information superhighway.
Network upon network is accessible online, with likeminded individuals
sharing information and ideas via bulletin boards, virtual communities, blogs, etc. to further their
professions—not to mention their careers—via communication through the various electronic mediums now available
But, according to a study conducted by the University of North
Texas in cooperation with the Red Angus Association of America, despite a host of sites available and the huge
benefits that could be reaped, cattle ranchers have all but bucked the internet information sharing trend in favor
of good old fashioned word of mouth.
Not for Lack of Access
Most of the 209 ranchers surveyed owned a
personal computer and had ready access to the internet. But while sons and daughters regularly jumped online for
school work and e-mailing their friends, 83 percent said they did not use the internet to run the ranch or access
information. Not that they aren’t using the computer or the Internet; just the opposite is true. But, those
surveyed indicated they did not use the internet to share and spread information to establish a cooperative online
community and actively work to further and promote idea sharing and awareness.
Instead, of those that did, the vast majority went online to examine breeding
information, auction values, general market information and veterinary related resources.
Creating an Online Community
Other studies, which have examined the effect of internet information sharing on
disciplines and industries, as well as its effects on problem solving and information dissemination, have found
growing empirical evidence that groups accessing and idea sharing information via bulletin boards, e-mail, and
other Web-related mediums see a noticeable increase in productivity, growth and performance.
The study indicated there is a need “for information sharing within the ranching
community,” and points out that “the use of computer networks and services including information databases, E-mail,
electronic bulletin boards and other appropriate services could contribute to preserving the ranching way of life
and the creation of integrated coalition of ranchers through the development of an electronic ranching
Jack of All Trades
One reason for this lack of Web use is the
tremendous amount of information ranchers must grapple with on a daily basis. The occupation itself requires an
intricate or, at the very least, a basic knowledge of such a diverse collection of disciplines that one could spend
their entire day trolling Web site after Web site and still not find one site that tackles all of the complexities
that are the day-to-day duties of the rancher.
Not only does the rancher raise and sell cattle, but he or she must also understanding
the intricacies of modern day purchasing, sales, marketing, finances, veterinary and nutritional medicine,
commodities, weather, biology, law, and a host of other duties that would make a CEO’s head spin. When you factor
all those tasks into a 24-hour day it’s a wonder today’s rancher has time to eat, tend to his or her herd, let
alone surf the Web.
Generation upon Generation
The reality is, many of today’s smaller ranches have existed for generations, their
pastures laid and fences raised long before fiber optic cables and modern day modems came into play. With such an
inherent knowledge passed down from generation to generation, often the only place today’s rancher needs to go to
learn the tricks and master the tools of the trade is outside their front door.
Regardless of the findings, the study does open the door for discussion on the role of
the Internet in today’s small ranch. Small acreage ranchers across the United States have embraced computer
technology as a means to organize, monitor and track the herd as well as run their business and disseminate
information about their roots-oriented methods. And, because the small rancher needs to compete on a more localized
or one-on-one level with consumers, the Internet has provided a powerful marketing outlet.
But, the study concludes, with many ranches located in isolated and rural areas, the
Internet’s greatest potential for ranching is its ability to become a digital ranching library, housing information
previously inaccessible to ranchers with little local facilities and resources to tap but the neighbors. At the
same time, the small cattle rancher can get a surprisingly in-depth education on the fundamentals of the trade.