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Minister Smith welcomes increased use of Information Technology (IT) in Farming and Rural Communities

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith TD, today welcomed the interim report of the Committee on the Uptake of IT in Agriculture and Rural Communities (CUITA).

Mr Smith said that with the ongoing reform of the CAP, farming must operate in an increasingly competitive environment. Farmers need to use all of the tools available to them to maintain the competitiveness of their enterprise and IT is an important tool in this regard. The Minister said that the evidence available showed that those farmers that have already used the Department's online services have had a very positive experience. For example, less that half of one percent of Single Payment applications submitted online through had errors, compared with about 5 per cent of those submitted on paper. These farmers avoided possible delays, and the effort of follow-up contact to resolve errors.

The Minister explained that the overall objective of the CUITA was to accelerate the adoption of information technology (IT) by the farming sector so as to ensure that it reaps all of the efficiency gains available from such technologies and has access to all of the available information sources to make the best decisions for their business, and to promote the participation of Irish farm families in the knowledge society.

The Minister pointed out that while online services are of value to all families, they are of particular value to rural dwellers. A vast range of services that, in the past, required a rural dweller to make a trip to the nearest big town are now available at the click of a mouse, and this can make a significant difference to the quality of rural life. Minister Smith added: I am keen to see farmers and rural families in Ireland reap the full benefits of using the web and online services.

I appreciate that eGovernment services alone will not bring about a significant increase in the number of rural dwellers going online, though Government Departments, like other players, have a particular role to play in advancing this agenda. The availability of affordable broadband is an important factor in the uptake of online services. In this regard, my colleague Minister Eamon Ryan has confirmed that he will be shortly making an important announcement in relation to unserved areas/areas that currently cannot access broadband.

Meanwhile, in recognition that the fear of technology can also be a major barrier to uptake, support and mentoring can play an important role in addressing this in some circumstances and my colleague Minister Eamon O'Cuiv has confirmed that the new Leader Programme provides scope for this type of initiative.

This Department will continue to improve the services that it provides electronically to its customers. It will also work with all of the other organisations involved to explore further the barriers to uptake, to remove barriers where possible, to highlight the importance and value of these technologies to rural families, and to promote greater uptake. The Minister concluded by saying that we want to see more farmers and rural families go online.

20 January 2009

Date Released: 20 January 2009