America’s Internet Agriculture: Experience Worth Learning From

Recently, China unveiled policies that will accelerate the integration of the Internet with several industries, hoping to leverage modern information technologies to forward the development of traditional industries and forge a new model for economic development. With farming, for example, the Internet is not only a pivotal technological tool for modern agriculture, but an important method of stimulus that can lower production and distribution costs and raise the efficiency of agricultural production.

Harnessing the power of the Internet for the agricultural industry is not simply a conceptual pipe dream, but a realistically achievable goal. And in the integration of the two, the United States’ experience can be a valuable guide. As the birthplace of and forerunner in modern information technology, the United States possesses and utilizes various technologies in its agricultural industry, including computers, information storage and management, communications, multimedia, artificial intelligence, geographic information systems (GIS), the Global Positioning System (GPS), remote passive sensing technologies (PS), and more. Through these advanced technologies, the United States not only has been able to maintain the competitiveness of its agricultural sector, but has also become a leader in releasing global agricultural information and influencing agricultural development in many countries around the world.

In the past, I have had the opportunity to observe the inner workings of the U.S. cotton industry, an experience that deeply impressed upon me how modern information technology is leveraged in U.S. agricultural production. For example, in the bread belt of the United States, state departments responsible for the promotion of agricultural technology have established large farm observation points. Agricultural technologists come every few days to these observation spots to collect and manage recorded data relating to temperature, humidity levels, pest damage, etc., and use computers and communications equipment placed at these points to relay said information to other states’ agricultural departments. After these departments analyze and review the information, it is passed onto local farm operators. Based on this information, U.S. farmers then proceed with sowing, fertilizing, irrigation, pesticide application, etc. to produce their crops. This not only shows how U.S. farmers can efficiently manage several thousand acres of crops, but is also a glimpse into the scientific, methodical and rigorous production processes that they use. Thus, the Internet is a distinctive modern information technology supporting U.S. farming today.

There is much that we can learn from others, and for China as it straddles the line of transition from traditional farming to modern agriculture, making use of the Internet as a modern information technology is of paramount importance. The Internet’s ability to instruct unhindered by physical distance not only can help reform traditional farming, but can also enhance the technological aspects of scientific planting, strengthen China’s agricultural competitiveness, and spur the development of industries and professions linked to agriculture. Through the Internet, for example, we can transmit advanced and appropriate farming techniques and mitigate difficulties encountered during the farming process. Farmers often find themselves defenseless against crop disease and pests, a problem that has only become more apparent since existing systems for the promulgation of agricultural technology have failed.

Using the technology of the Internet to encourage e-commerce in farming villages can effectively boost agricultural product sales. It is an answer to problems that occur with traditional means of commerce such as long distribution times, high production costs and imbalances in supply and demand, and offers solutions to factors contributing to low sales for Chinese farm products, including a high number of links along distribution chains, high losses and high costs of production. Modern information technologies can also help match supply with sales figures. Meanwhile, as traditional methods of operation within the industry are reformed, effectively shifting excess labor from farming villages by using crop-selling cooperatives to enhance the special advantages and interests of young farmers (especially with their love of computers and using the Internet) and lead them toward selling agricultural products online will spur business creation, stimulate the development of industries linked to agriculture and form a large farming industry that is closely integrated with the primary sector, thereby speeding the pace of China’s transformation from being a power to a great power in agriculture.

The author is a research associate at the Chinese Academy of Social Science’s Rural Development Institute.

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