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FARM & RANCH: Internet Helps Producers Improve Management

It’s not enough to grow a great crop. Cities are full of former farmers and ranchers who could produce excellent yields of high-quality commodities. Success today also demands mastery of management, and management is based on information.

It’s no wonder, then, that the brightest and best producers today can drive a computer as well as they can ride a horse or drive a tractor, swather or combine. In today’s intensely competitive environment producers not only must have information, they must have accurate, current information, and they must know what to do with it.

As more and more of this information becomes available via the Internet, farmers and ranchers must become experienced travelers in cyberspace where a mind-boggling amount of information is available with a few clicks of a computer mouse.

I couldn’t have asked for a better example that literally fell into my cyber lap as I was writing this column. As my fingers flew across the keyboard my e-mail application “dinged” me. Simultaneously I hit the ALT and TAB keys, switching my computer screen from my word processor to my e-mail software. A news release had just arrived from the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

The headline grabbed my attention. “State fertilizer information available on the Internet.” Instantly, I was hooked.

WSDA was announcing that it had just put this information on its World Wide Web page. It is a huge pile of information, posted in compliance with the Fertilizer Regulation Act of 1998. It includes data on almost 2,500 fertilizer products and provides two major types of information: plant nutrients the product guarantees it contains, and the concentration of nine metals in the product.

Information can be accessed by product name or company name.

Like all other sources of information on the World Wide Web,this data is accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. No waiting for a publication to arrive in the mail. No drive to town looking for information. No phone call to a consultant.

Various Web sites report up-to-the minute market information and a broad variety of other important data. A producer who needs good weather for an operation can go on-line and check current weather conditions in surrounding areas. If there is a storm front, producers can access a Web site that will allow them to watch the storm front as it approaches, thus greatly reducing their risks.

Information for producers is available on federal and state government sites, and at many sites sponsored by private companies.

Herb Hinman, a Washington State University agricultural economist,posts a variety of data on his Web site. This Web site, which is relatively unknown, includes production cost figures for 1997-1998.It has been accessed 3,040 times since Jan. 5, 1999.

One of the primary interests in computers lies in record keeping. Hinman has taught the use of Quicken software to more than 500producers through workshops.

WSU also distributes several farm management computer programs for personal computers. Similar workshops are offered by community colleges.

Hinman says many producers now use the Internet to hunt for equipment.For instance, a producer wanting to check out fertilizer shanks could visit The McGregor Company Web page where technical data and photographs are posted. (McGregor’s headquarters are near Colfax, Wash.) No doubt other chemical and equipment dealers offer similar product information on their Web sites.

Here are some Web sources to explore. No endorsement of private businesses or products is implied.

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