Topic: The good digital farmer? The potential and pitfalls of information technology – a perspective from the hills
Keywords: Good farmer; Digital farmer; ICT; Hill farming
In recent years, the role of digital technology in farm business practice has received considerable attention, particularly through a precision farming discourse underpinned by the principles of productivist agriculture and exemplified in corresponding intensive farming systems. Such developments have tended to overlook more extensive farming systems, widely associated with less productive upland areas often portrayed as communities at risk, both economically and socially. Yet digital connectivity steadily permeates the everyday of the farming world in upland areas as it does elsewhere – through the use of digital applications such as social media, news feeds and weather apps. Drawing on the notion of the ‘good farmer’ and foregrounding hill farming and sheep farmer practices in particular, this paper discusses the uptake, application and role of digital connectivity in two ways. Firstly, the paper draws upon findings from an ethnographic study that followed the Internet experiences and behaviour of hill farmers over the course of a 12-18 month period subsequent to the provision of broadband to the household. Secondly, the paper analyses the related social media activity of those farmers engaged in pedigree sheep breeding. The paper ‘unpicks’ the relationship between the hill farmer and information technology and in turn, the role of the Internet in the promotion and sale of livestock. Requirements to use an online platform to report the registration, movement and sale of livestock is a driving force for connectivity yet for some the personal benefits to be gained from the use of professional websites and social media in livestock marketing and promotion remain questionable. Perceptions of the role, access to and utility of the Internet appears to be bound-up in the nuances of inter-generational and personal and business relationships. Notions of the ‘good farmer,’ transferable to the digital world, both help and hinder on-line engagement. Better understanding of such nuances can inform efforts to promote Internet use, knowledge transfer and digital innovation amongst the hill farming community.