The number of farmers and ranchers operating in cyberspace is on the rise, according to a study conducted by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The agency reported that the share of farms with Internet access more than doubled to 29 percent between 1997 and 1999 and that 90,000 farms bought or sold agricultural products on the Internet last year.

The NASS study says the person with his finger hovering over the "buy" button is likely to be younger and have a higher level of education than the average farmer.

More than 600,000 U.S. farms and ranches accessed the Internet in 1999, with 15 percent conducting e-commerce transactions, based on USDA's Agricultural Resource Management Study. This means that roughly one of every 25 farms and ranches in the country bought or sold agricultural products on the Internet.

Farmers or ranchers who bought or sold on-line in 1999 were more likely to be younger, more educated operators than the average farmer. Almost three-quarters of active e-commerce users were between 35 and 54 (over 70 percent), and just over a third had completed college or graduate school.

Forty-six percent of today's farmers and ranchers are between 35 and 54 years old, according to NASS, and 21 percent have completed college or graduate school.

More than half (55 percent) of 1999 agricultural e-commerce came from the Heartland, Prairie Gateway, and Fruitful Rim regions, which together account for 47 percent of total farms. In addition, many farms that bought or sold on-line in 1999 were small (gross sales below $250,000).

Over 42 percent of on-line market activity in 1999 involved purchasing crop inputs. Farms with operators going on-line to buy crop inputs accounted for almost one-tenth of U.S. corn and soybean acreage, and the same share of total seed, fertilizer, and chemical expenses.