Australian farmers left behind in the digital economy – Insights from the Australian Digital Inclusion Index

Australian farmers left behind in the digital economy – Insights from the Australian Digital Inclusion Index Journal Article

Journal of Rural Studies

  • Author(s): Marshall, Amber, Dezuanni, Michael, Burgess, Jean, Thomas, Julian, Wilson, Chris K.
  • Published: 2020
  • ISBN: 0743-0167

Abstract: Although Australia's population is concentrated in major urban centres along its coastal fringe, its less populous rural communities are important to society and the economy—supporting sectors like agriculture, which occupies over half the continent's land mass and accounts for 2.2% of value added gross domestic product (GDP) (Jackson et al., 2020). The vast distances between urban and rural centres present challenges to the provision of essential infrastructure like roads, transport, energy – and telecommunications. Within this last category, internet connectivity and skills are both increasingly necessary and historically less available to the regional and rural agricultural sector in comparison to other industries and geographic communities. The digital inclusion agenda in Australia aims to address such gaps by promoting and supporting people and communities to use technology to improve social and economic well-being. This article builds on research underpinning the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII), which defines digital inclusion as the capacity of people to access, afford and use online technologies effectively. The article focuses on the nature and extent of digital inclusion for Australia's farmers (identified as farmers and farm managers) based on analysis of a customised set of primary data extracted from the ADII dataset. This analysis reveals generally low levels of digital inclusion in rural communities, particularly among farmers, with distinctive and complex characteristics across measures of Access, Affordability and Digital Ability. Our findings highlight a perplexing scenario in which farmers score poorly on the Index when compared to Australians who live in similar circumstances but are not employed in the farming sector. We attribute lower levels of access to limited internet technology options, lower data speeds, inadequate reliability and lower data allowances. Less affordability is associated with individual-level socioeconomic factors, along with lack of competition between service providers in sparse population areas, the comparative cost of building telecommunications infrastructure in the bush, and the need for redundancy in rural and remote solutions. Finally, lower digital ability scores reflect social, cultural and material practices on farms that have produced distinctive orientations to technology. We conclude the article by explaining the contributions of the paper to digital inclusion research and by making recommendations for policy development.

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Suggested Citation
Marshall, Amber, Dezuanni, Michael, Burgess, Jean, Thomas, Julian, Wilson, Chris K., 2020, Australian farmers left behind in the digital economy – Insights from the Australian Digital Inclusion Index, Journal Article, viewed 12 June 2024, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=21151.

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