Online services crop up
- By Judi Hasson
- Mar 26, 2000
Because tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers use computers to help
them manage their crops and their land, Congress is pushing the Agriculture
Department to become more Internet-friendly.
A bill that would let farmers file paperwork online and get access via
the Internet to USDA information on product and farm programs was approved
by the House Agriculture Committee's oversight subcommittee in a voice vote
"This bill is about access. It's about allowing our producers the advantages
of a maturing information technology market," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.),
the subcommittee chairman. The bill (H.R. 852) now goes to the full committee,
where passage is expected.
Farmers aren't strangers to technology. In 1999, USDA's National Agricultural
Statistics Service found that nearly one-third of the nation's 2.2 million
farms had Internet access. Of farms with more than $100,000 in sales a year,
an estimated 43 percent had access to the Internet and used it.
USDA information about prices, crops, weather, and supply and demand
can have a major impact on the crops farmers plant. With more timely market
information, farmers can make smarter decisions about what to grow.
But Goodlatte complained that the lack of a common computer environment
at USDA has threatened to "limit the development of farmer-friendly Internet
"Our producers are in danger of being left behind," Goodlatte said.
USDA isn't the only agency facing pressure to better serve the public
via the Internet. The Transportation Department announced March 20 that
it is setting up World Wide Web sites to let customers pay for goods, services
and registration over the Internet.
Among them is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which
operates a Web site that allows truck and business operators to apply for
registrations and pay fines for federal safety violations.
The Social Security Administration and the industry consortium CommerceNet
are starting work on a project to deliver services, such as retirement services,
to the public over the Internet.
"Everybody is our customer potentially," said Tony Trenkle, director
of electronic services at SSA.