The fundamental change in the rural economy made possible by e-commerce is reliant on efficient communications technology that is unaffected by distance and interference, says Federated Farmers.
Federated Farmers has kept in touch with the five current rural broadband pilots and run its own trials, allowing it to get a handle on the relative performance and characteristics of ADSL, satellite, wireless and cellular technology.
ADSL is “good if the copper network is good”, says Federated Farmers’ vice-president Tom Lambie. In practice this means it is most valuable in “provincial” areas, close to towns.
Satellite is a well-functioning technology, but a remote farmer is committed to using the long satellite link both for upward and downward transmission, while people in towns can use comparatively slow and cheap terrestrial links for mouse-clicks and the small amount of input and uploaded information. This makes the technology more expensive, he says. Wireless relies on line of sight and hence is at a severe disadvantage in New Zealand’s often hilly rural terrain. Cellular has the advantage of mobility, but otherwise has marked limitations.
“All this is working towards whole-of-community solutions”, Lambie says, providing not only applications directly relevant to agriculture but help with household finances and education.
E-commerce has the potential to change rural New Zealand fundamentally, says Lambie. Rather than watching time zones and spending a lot on old methods of communication to catch customers at their desks, “now you can do things with your customers when you want”.
The agricultural industry is reliant on good communication and squarely behind the ideas of trade liberalisation and international “interdependence” espoused by commentator Rod Oram, Lambie says.
The old concept of fieldays required farmers to travel to discuss what other farmers outside their locality were doing and what equipment and procedures were newly available. The idea of a fielday will translate well to the web, email and other forms of internet communication, he says.
Far from outmoding old land-based industries, e-commerce “creates employment opportunity” in the agricultural sector, Lambie says.