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Bradenton AREC Research Report BRA1983-21 November 1983
MICROCOIPUTERS: A POTENTIAL TOOL FOR AGRICULTURAL PRODUCERS
J. W. Prevatt, C. D. Stanley, and G. A. Marlowe, Jr.1
Among the early users of microcomputers were a few farmers and ranchers
who found numerous applications for this new technology. The success of
these innovative individuals stimulated an explosion of agricultural
microcomputer users. Increasingly farmers and ranchers are adopting
this new technology microcomputers. However, unlike the technological
advances agricultural producers have seen in the past, this technology
is directed at accessing and managing information for making sound
management decisions, rather than utilizing physical production inputs
such as fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, improved varieties, vaccines,
feed additives, etc. to more competitively produce agricultural products.
The microcomputer may assist the producer in organizing, sorting, storing,
and evaluating information that will help decide when and how to plant, what
cultural practices are cost effective, when and where to market his
products, and how to more effectively organize his agricultural operations
to increase efficiency. The unique value and usefulness of the microcomputer
is realized and appreciated only when you consider the increased quantity
of information available today that can influencethbe return on agricultural
investments. Microcomputers have found a place in many agricultural
operations and are worthy of investigation by all and a worthwhile investment
for many. The future of microcomputers in our fast paced world is assured,
as is the future expansion of capabilities and applications for these machines.
Several years from now we- will probably look back on today's microcomputers
with the same fond amusement that we currently reserve for the first auto-
mobiles. Microcomputers, however, unlike the first automobiles that
were expensive and took a long time to reach the farm gate, are relatively
inexpensive and readily available for farmers and ranchers to use in
their operations. Like the first automobiles, though, microcomputers
require an operator that has the knowledge to control and command desired
MICROCOMPUTERS AND USERS
Computers are commonly classified as microcomputers, minicomputers, and
main-frame computers which correspond with the increasing size and extent
of the system's capability. The system that currently has gained the most
Assistant Professor, Assistant Professor and Professor, respectively.
popularity among agricultural users is the microcomputer. The fully
equipped microcomputer is composed of a microprocessor, monitor (screen),
keyboard, disk drive or cassette recorder, modem, and printer. These
components represent the hardware of the microcomputer that enable the
user to put in the information that may be sorted, stored, manipulatedd,
and evaluated, and retrieve output based on the processing of the input
The complete computer system, however, is composed of hardware (the computer
equipment) and software (the programs that control the equipment). Any
computer system will be no better than the weaker of these two components.
Likewise, the microcomputer can contribute considerable power to the
thinking aide of any agricultural operation, but without the appropriate
software (programs) it is useless. Locating and selecting suitable software,
for your operation is the most important and often most difficult step
involved in making the best use of your computer system.
Select software that is flexible enough to handle the information you
want, process it quickly, and retrieve and present the output rapidly
in an easy to understand format. The best way to make sure the software
will do what you want is to see it demonstrated a couple of times before
you decide if it meets your objectives. Disregard the sales pitch
about the intricacies of the programming language, but be certain the software
accomplishes your needs.
You do not need to know how to-write programs to evaluate software and
skillfully use computer programs. Basic computer programming skill is
of value to the computer operator for changing program statements or
writing simple programs, but the purchase of.user oriented software will
not require the operator to use any programming language.
Agricultural computer programs do require that the operator be familiar
with the subject area of the program in order to properly use the program.
The use of agricultural programs; however, are no substitute for knowledge about
their discipline. For instance, you do not need to know anything about
programming to run a break-even yield program, but you do need to be
familiar with what units you are producing and what kinds of cost you are
using to determine the break-even costs.
The technology of the microcomputer today ,provides an incredible range
of computing capacity that allows users many potential applications. Micro-
computer applications for agriculture are generally grouped into the
following categories: financial, records, decision-making, communication,
administrative, and personal.
Popular applications of the microcomputer include keeping financial
records associated with accounts payable, accounts receivable, net worth
statements, bank balances, payroll, cash flow, and enterprise costs and
returns. In addition, nonfinancial records may be kept such as breeding
and production reports, crop and field records, inventory lists, and mailing
Decision-making applications are among the most sought-:after software for the
microcomputers.- Common microcomputer decision-making aids include
evaluations such as investment feasibility analysis, ration formulation,
fertilizerr mix T6ftulation, cropping strategies, commodity decision-tree
analysis, commodity price charts and tables, purchase versus-custom
hire, and trade'versus keep--machinery. Numerous other decision aids
have been developed by manufacturing computer outlets and individuals
that are worthy of evaluation.
Perhaps the idea of farm microcomputers communicating with computers
' elsewhere is a bit futuristic, but this is indeed not the case for
many non-agricultural businesses today. The ability of the microcomputer
to communicate with a computer in another location may be accomplished
by most systems simply via the use of a-"modem" which allows the computers-
to connect by means of the telephone line. This application of the
microcomputer will enable agricultural producers to access and receive
information such as production guides, market news, commodity reports,
weather reports, and messages.
Administrative uses of the microcomputer consist primarily of indexing
files, scheduling, placing orders, handling mailing lists, and word
processing which allows for developing notes, letters, manuscripts, and
reports. Microcomputers have contributed significantly to more effectively
_handling the increased documentation and communications of administrators
and their staff.
The personal uses and benefits of the microcomputer for playing games
and entertainment have probably already been seen and/or experienced by
most. Other personal uses might include educational programs, monitoring
appliances, accessing news, family budget planning, and the list goes
on and on.
Microcomputer applications are limited only by the users vision, imagination,
and ability to make the system achieve the desired results. Future micro-
computer capacity and program applications are expected to increase
tremehdously. These previously mentioned applications and future
advancements will aid agricultural producers in making informed decisions
and add more power to the thinking side of agriculture.
COST OF OWNING A MICROCOMPUTER SYSTEM
The complete microcomputer system requires both hardware and software to
process any information.- -Individually, the hardware equipment and
software programs are useless. Likewise, the improper matching and
selection of software and hardware often results in a system that will
not accomplish your objectives. .In short, these computer systems will do
little more than cost you money if the appropriate software programs are
The logical approach.to purchasing a computer system is to identify the
Software programs that will accomplish your objectives. What.do you want the
computer system to do? After sorting out what you want done, -sit down
with a sales representative and let him demonstrate the program to you.
You may want to do this a couple of times and preferably with different
brands of software. The point is to make certain that the software program will
accomplish what you want it to and that you feel comfortable with the output.
Costs of the software used to run the hardware (microcomputer) vary considerably
among types and brands. It is very difficult to place a dollar value on
the costs of software, but it is not uncommon for users to spend as much
or more on software as on hardware. The type and brand of software you
select will determine your software costs.
After choosing the appropriate software programs, the choice of hardware
(microcomputer) becomes much easier. Simply size up what equipment and capacity
is needed to operate the programs you have selected and match the appropriate
hardware, keeping in mind possible expansion or increased use in the future,
Again, there are numerous brands and levels of capacity among microcomputers
which also vary in price. The following table contains some "ball park"
hardware estimates for the low and high ends of typical microcomputer equipment.
---- ---- ------ -- -------
Table 1. Estimated cost of hardware.
Hardware Item Low End High End
Computer (48-64K RAM & CPU) ................. $ 300 $ 5,000
Video Display Screen ......................... 100 800
Printer ................. ............ .. 350 2,700
Disk Drive .................................... 300 1,000
Modem (Communication) ......................... 150 900
TOTAL HARDWARE COSTS ......................... 1,200 10,400
----------- --------- -------------
These hardware costs.represent estimates that hopefully will provide interested
individuals with a feel for how equipment costs may vary. The low end
estimate will generally not include interfaces, communication ports, and
numerous convenience and flexibility features such as single key functions
and normal size keyboards, while the high end estimate represents the
"state of the art" equipment for intensified professional use. There are
several microcomputer systems available for less than $2,500 that package
hardware and software together which, if purchased separately, would cost
The combined cost of hardware and software for most beginning users probably
ranges from $2,500 to $7,500 for the complete system. These are only estimates
and each individual can better justify his needs andd costs from evaluating
his particular situation.
Microcomputer purchasers should also give careful consideration to maintenance
cost and where they may get their systems serviced. Maintenance agreements
or contracts are difficult to estimate, but most computer stores will
offer some type of service. If you plan to be an intensive user, you
should strive to insure that you purchase a microcomputer that has
manufacturing or repair facilities locally to service your equipment
which will reduce your down time. In addition, you may want to seek
vendors that will provide backup support for your system and software if
your computing needs are essential.
The availability, applicability, and cost of microcomputer systems today
are such that many farmers and ranchers may make adequate use of them.
Currently, these systems offer numerous applications for agricultural and
business management and possess great potential for improvement and enhance-
ment of applications for the future.
The use of the microcomputer system for accessing, processing and retrieving
information to map out a production route before committing any capital puts
farmers and rangers one step closer to profitable farm planning. However,
even with the aid of the microcomputer system, these analyses require much
time, but the time spent in prior planning and analyses cost much less than
getting part of the way through a production process and discovering that
it is not profitable.
Like other financial investments, careful planning and consideration need
to precede any microcomputer system investment. Setting up, learning, and
becoming proficient on the use of the microcomputer system takes both a
commitment of time and effort. Inadequate planning and the lack of a
commitment will certainly insure measurable headaches and frustrations.
The reward for a carefully planned microcomputer system investment and
the commitment to see it through will be improved management information
and increased problem solving potential.