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His mobile device could very well be one of the most important pieces of equipment on Doug Palen’s farm today.

“It’s an integral part of what I do and how I do it — whether it’s communication with employees or managing farm information on my tablet or phone,” says Palen, who owns a mixed farm in north central Kansas. “Accessing the cropping records is probably when I use it the most, verifying information when I’m out scouting — what variety is here, what were the seeding dates, that kind of thing.”

Palen is not alone. A recent study by the market research firm Ipsos Agriculture and Animal Health revealed that farmers’ use of mobile devices has eclipsed that of the general consumer population — and that farmers are using their smartphones and tablets for work as much, if not more, than for personal use.

The findings did not come as a surprise to Colin Siren, the Ipsos vice president who headed up the survey. After conducting a 2012 survey on agricultural communications, he realized farmers’ mobile habits required a closer look.

“It’s become such a big thing — almost a zeitgeist-like topic that agricultural marketers are needing to understand,” says Siren.

The full study, reserved for Ipsos clients, reveals that over 80 percent of Canadian grain farmers use a smartphone. Siren says this stat didn’t surprise him, given how few data plans support flip phones and how often people upgrade their mobile devices. “A traditional non-smartphone is almost non-existent, even a two-year-old phone is old,” he notes. “This issue isn’t that they are have smartphones, it’s what they’re doing on them.”

While farmers are certainly using their mobile devices for social media, banking, news, texting, etc. — over 40 percent had downloaded one or more apps related to running the farm.

“I think it’s really intriguing in terms of how much these are being used for their business,” says Siren, speculating that in large part this could be due to the highly mobile nature of farming as compared to other independent businesses.

The study also found that 50 percent of farmers’ screen time takes place on a smartphone or tablet with a data plan, versus a laptop or desktop computer. “This tells me that if you want to work with farmers, you have to be mobile-friendly.”

Peak Season No Longer Off Limits to Marketers

The Ipsos study found that mobile usage among farmers was highest during seeding and harvest — peak seasons that ag suppliers and marketers have traditionally avoided under the assumption that farmers were too busy to listen to their message.

These findings flip that model on its head. Siren says farmers are plugged into their phones more than ever during harvest and planting, which means that companies marketing to them have more of a captive audience than they previously thought.

“Auto-steer is a wonderful thing,” says Siren. “If we look at what the stats say about screen time during peak seasons, it certainly tells us that consumption of information is going on. It’s a tool that’s with them all the time, whether they are waiting in line, or using autosteer.”

The 2015 Ipsos Ag Mobil-ology study was designed to deliver a comprehensive review of the mobile farm marketplace in the U.S. and Canada, and highlight the essential role mobile devices play in the lies of farmers.

Mobile Adoption by Farmers Follows Similar Trajectory as Africans

New findings from the American ‘fact tank’ Pew Research Center suggest that farmers may be on a similar trajectory as many African country populations, which show comparatively high mobile usage vs screen time logged on laptops and desktop computers.

According to the Pew Research Center survey released in the spring of 2014, in a few short years mobile phone usage has skyrocketed in Africa, now coming very close usage rates in the U.S. The percentage of adults who own a cell phone in the U.S. is 89, the same as in South Africa. In Ghana it is 83 (a massive spike from eight percent in 2002) and in Kenya, cell phone ownership is at 82 percent, says the Pew study.

Many say due to the lag in infrastructure and public sector spending Africans, for the most part, skipped the landline stage of communications and jumped straight into mobile. Texting and taking pictures or video are the most common mobile activities, the study found.

Farmers in North America, too, seem to be adopting mobile work tools to keep pace with the complexities of their business.

“Farmers are heavy users of mobile, and the degree to which they’ve downloaded apps related to their business — I have to believe this outpaces the general population,” says Siren. “The reality is that we’re in a position where usage is transferring from a laptop to a mobile environment. You’ve got a mobile audience that is very attractive. They’re heavy users of technology, applications, wireless content — and they are key decision-makers for their business.”
 

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