School of Information Studies, Charles Sturt University. Wagga Wagga. NSW 2678
This paper discusses the SILO project. The objectives are outlined for the Project and the unique benefits of SILO and the Internet to agriculture are considered. Some home pages are presented and the future for SILO is outlined.
What is SILO? In its simplest form, SILO is an agricultural Internet server located in Wagga Wagga at the Charles Sturt University campus. A server is a computer, which is an access point or terminal on the Internet. It is much like a train terminal for a railway.
It is the combined effort of Geoff Fellows and Ken Eustace who are lecturers at CSU and Paul Samuelson and Paul Murray, who have farming operations and are Masters students in Information Technology at CSU. We acknowledge the strong support of the Farrer Centre for Conservation Farming.
Our first objective was to develop an Internet agricultural server at CSU. That has been accomplished. One of our main objectives has been to develop links to local farm information - that is, to promote local businesses and local farmers both using and having a presence on the Internet.
We have endeavoured to provide links to worldwide agricultural information. The amount of agricultural information on the net has grown dramatically in the past 12 months.
This paper is an example of one of our objectives which is to attend and speak at field days and conferences to promote SILO and the Internet to the farming community.
Since we are representing the Farrer Centre for Conservation Farming, it would be appropriate to show its home page.
Actually the Centre for Conservation Farming has been on the Internet for almost two years now. Considering the newness of this technology that speaks very highly for the Centre.
Time is one of the most important factors affecting any business, but perhaps more so in farming. The farmer needs to access resources usually when businesses are closed. The Internet does not close at 5 pm.
Distance is another critical factor in supporting a farming operation. Agriculture, especially in Australia, is burdened with the tyranny of distance and bad roads. For the most part, the Internet is not affected by distance.
This idea of promoting the Internet to farmers is a challenge. Farming is one of the oldest occupations in the history of civilisation. The Internet is a 20th century technological phenomenon. Historically, they are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Nevertheless the farming community’s reluctance in using a computer has to a great extent been overcome and the benefits realised. The power and value of the Internet is also beginning to materialise.
The National Farmers’ Federation has received federal funding for a project to get some 1000 farmers onto the Internet. The project is still in its initial stages, but it represents a step by farm organisations and the government to begin to utilise this powerful tool.
The Internet is a unique communication form in human history. It is the most comprehensive system of communications so far created on earth. Your information can target a large audience, or precisely selected individuals. So, if you or your organisation have something to say the World Wide Web is a great medium to create presence.
The Internet was born out of a requirement for a small group of organisations to communicate and to share information more than 20 years ago.
Today it essentially still provides us with a medium to communicate and to share information, but now with a wider scope of people - estimated at 40 million users worldwide and 700,000 in Australia.
The WWW is an Internet application that revolutionised the Internet overnight. It allows individuals in the community to publish information in both text, graphical, audio and video format.
It is an application that is now being utilised by many organisations and individuals worldwide to disseminate information locally as well as across the planet. Many organisations, including the Australian Government, are now placing information relevant to our community on the Internet. For example, you will now be able to access both Federal and State legislation, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the most up-to-date weather forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology, and also Federal budget papers. This is but a small sample and the list goes on.
Search engines are available to search the WWW for information by keywords (e.g. tractors, cattle, sheep, chemicals, etc). This form of searching makes information readily available to the farming community from the home office.
The Internet provides a wide variety of forms of communication to the user. The main forms are:
Internet relay chat
While the SILO project is predominantly involved with home pages, I would like to briefly explain the above communication forms available on the Internet.
Home pages - they are not pictures of our homes but a computer screen of information much like a page in a book.
E-mail - E-mail is one of the most effective forms of communications today. E-mail allows us to communicate with suppliers, customers, business associates and friends whether overseas or locally at very little cost. It is a lot more responsive than postal mail and a lot more cost effective than phone or fax.
E-mail allows the user to send a plain text message, but also attach electronic documents with it, such as graphics, video clips or sound clips.
Internet Relay Chat - The Internet relay chat (IRC) allows users to chat to someone thousands of miles away without paying high telephone charges. With IRC you are able to communicate with other users through the keyboard.
While IRCs are keyboard-based, Iphone (or Internet phone) is now available. This allows users to speak to people all over the Internet at little more than the cost of a local call.
Newsgroups - Newsgroups gives users the opportunity to voice your opinion on any subject or topic, whether it be on farming, yachting in the Whitsundays or on any current affairs.
There are over 6000 newsgroups on the Internet. You are bound to find newsgroups that are of interest to you or you can start your own.
The SILO Project
The SILO project to date has concentrated its efforts initially on creating a page that would give the farmer easy access to the various resources that are available on the Internet.
This has been done by creating pages under relevant headings with clickable links to the resources. These links include:
others, including exotics
We also created some resources that we thought would be beneficial to local farmers that did not already exist on the Internet. These links include:
Wagga Wagga Livestock Marketing Centre stock prices
Riverina agricultural calendar
The Wagga Wagga Livestock Marketing Centre - We have created a link, with the cooperation of the Wagga Wagga City Council and the Livestock Marketing Centre, that gives the most up-to-date sales information of both the Monday cattle sales and the Thursday sheep sales.
This is an example of the cattle sale information. The sale results include a commentary on the sale along with summary details of all livestock sold.
This is just one example of the on-line capabilities of the weather forecasting tools on the net. This is a Southeast Asia/Australia satellite photo that gives you an idea of the weather in your region.
This is the Grains Research and Development Corporation home page. This page contains:
publications and papers
other relevant grains sites
The Australian Dairy Industry Council home page - states, “The Australian Dairy Industry Council has a dairy industry journal.This month a feature on world prices, NZ trade and food standards. The ADIC is the peak policy body of the Australian Dairy Industry, representing the Industry to Governments and other organisations. Its goal is to maximise the Industry’s efficiency and revenue.”
Australia’s Exotic News, focusing on alternatives, was first published in June 1994 with the aim of providing practical, non-political and informative news and information on the diversified and exotic farming industries within Australia and overseas.
Industries covered include African hoofstock, aquaculture, beefalo, bison, buffalo, bush tucker, camel, cattle, crocodile, deer, donkey, elk, emu, goats (exotic breeds), miniature cattle, miniature donkeys, miniature horses, miniature pigs, miniature ponies, native produce, ostrich, sheep (exotic breeds), sheepdogs, worms.
Other information includes service, supplies and equipment, calendar of events, associations.
The Australian Macadamia home page contains articles on:
macadamia - the tree and its environment
Australian Macadamia Society
As you can see there is already a wide variety of diverse information available to the local farmer through SILO and the Internet.
This is a picture from a site in the USA All it does is have pictures of old tractors and where parts are available for them.
The Future for SILO
We hope the future for SILO will include SILO being permanent at farm field days - that attracts the front-line farmer. If you compare agriculture to a war, then the front line is where the farmer is.
We hope SILO will be a communications link with the other worlds of agriculture.
Eventually the Internet and SILO will be just another tool - like a tractor.
The SILO project is at the heart of the Internet and technology program at the Farrer Centre for Conservation Farming. An outline of the various projects such as SILO is available at:
Network Publishing and Improved Communications
Two-way publishing and communications for teaching, research collaboration and commercial enterprises at the Farrer Centre is further enhanced as much of this information can get beyond the farm gate quickly using the Internet and the SILO site. From February 1997, rural services should begin to improve as TelstraNet attempts to make Internet access equitable through a local Point-of-Presence (POP) using POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). Hopefully the rural community will see advantages in excess of those still using a party line!
SILO will itself undergo constant change as the site is developed and maintained by Farrer Centre staff, leading to the development of a commercial site on the Internet. SILO will also have a role to play in promoting links ranging from various industry groups and CSIRO divisions to the teaching of high school agriculture. Projects such as Farrer Centre Online (using telecottage initiatives that have already began around Australia) and inFARMation have great potential to assist farmers in using the Internet effectively.
SILO will be linked to inFARMation projects such as the FBI - a Facsimile-Based Information delivery system, where farmers seeking information can telephone or send a facsimile message to the Farrer Centre and have the Centre staff member’s reply returned to them quickly from a computer database, using a facsimile/modem attached to a computer.
SILO will use the Internet to run an online survey of the information needs and uses of local farmers on the net. Titled “Home-on-the-Range”, this project features an automatic system for home page construction by farmers, interested business groups and community participants with access to the Internet. As each farmer or client builds their home page, they are asked to answer the survey questions. The resulting home page is kept in a database which is accessed by a directory page which is immediately updated as each home page is created. This survey will be a useful “back channel” for monitoring and assessing the needs of farmers using the Internet, which in turn will be useful data to business groups and research corporations.
Future directions at the Farrer Centre will foster SILO as the “glue” or “focal point” by linking and promoting all activities. SILO is seen by the authors to provide a vital opportunity to establish a permanent “virtual community” or “electronic field days” for agriculture in Australia.