Rapidly increasing numbers of farmers are embracing computer technology to improve the overall management of the farm business. However, buying a computer can be a potential minefield; there are so many options to choose from and so many questions to ask. This technology update outlines some of the answers and gives some guidelines as to the do’s and don’ts about buying a personal computer.

What can a computer help you with?

A computer can help you with:

  • VAT, accounts and business management 
  • herd/flock or field records
  • Process Control, (for example, automatic milk recording, environmental control and so on)
  • information access/communication - the internet, email
  • family education and entertainment (including word processing)
  • DAERA online services such as APHIS, Maps, Single application form and Nutrient calculators

Things to consider before buying a computer


The equipment itself - you can see and touch it; for example, CPU (Central Processing Unit), memory components, input and output devices (monitor, keyboard, printer), communications devices (such as modem or wireless router), laptop.

Laptop or Desktop?

Choosing between a laptop and desktop can be a difficult decision. The bottom line comes down to whether you need to carry it about - portability. If you need to use the computer in several locations, then a laptop will be more beneficial. There is definitely an advantage to being able to use the computer at the kitchen table, living room or office. Many people now have wireless internet - this means that your laptop can be used to surf the internet anywhere within range of the signal, (assuming the laptop has a wireless card enabled).

If, however, you will only ever use the computer in one place, (for example, in your office), then a desktop would make more sense. Desktops generally offer a better performance-to-price ratio and will come with a larger monitor and full size keyboard. This also means that they take up more room.

The choice is yours. Evaluate and review your computing needs and decide what's best for you.


The programs which allow you to understand, communicate with and control the hardware. They allow you to enter data, store it, process it and easily retrieve information; (for example, word processing, or creating spreadsheets).

What to buy?

This is a typical recommended specification for a PC/laptop for home/business use, at approx £450, (options in brackets): 

  • Intel Core i5 processor or greater – (2.8 - 3.3Ghz; although, higher Ghz may result in marginally better performance)
  • 8GB RAM
  • 1TB Hard Drive
  • DVD +/- RW Drive (read/write CD & DVD)
  • 19 inch monitor (15.4 inch for a laptop)
  • Windows 10 and "Office" type package, (for example, Office 365, MS Office or Open Office (free download))
  • a colour inkjet printer - check the price of ink cartridges as some brands are a lot more expensive to replace
  • sound, speakers (perhaps built in)
  • warranty - minimum of one year return to base

Buying a second hand PC is generally not recommended – it may be better to buy a lower spec new PC.

The best advice is to buy the best that you can afford to meet your own needs.


When choosing a printer, print quality and printer price will be closely linked.

Types of printer

  • Ink-Jet - quality is good, can print colour; must be used in a dry atmosphere
  • Laser - top quality – black and white (and now affordable); mostly for business users

You may also want to consider buying an 'all-in-one' printer/scanner/copier. These affordable machines will function as a regular printer and you can also use them as a photocopier, (for example, for photocopying permits, herd records and so on), without having your computer switched on.

Where to buy

  • Buy from a reputable source
  • There are plenty of local suppliers; ask around and you will find one close to you
  • The bigger shops will have good deals, but may not offer the same personal after sales service and warranty as a local supplier
  • Good after sales service is essential

What programs should I buy?

There are three main options:

Agriculture software packages 

There are several Northern Ireland suppliers of agriculture software, and also many other suppliers throughout the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. They all offer accounts and enterprise recording packages.

Ask for a demonstration, a demonstration CD or trial before purchasing and enquire about training and level and cost of after sales service.

List of suppliers of agriculture software packages

Generic accounts packages

These packages, which are not agriculture specific, can, if developed, be used to help keep VAT records and manage accounts. Note, however, that they may not be suitable for all farmers and growers.

Design your own records

Use spreadsheets or databases packages to design your own records tailored to your own needs. These are best used for simple calculations and records but will not be able to do all that a specific agriculture software package can do.

APHIS Online

APHIS online training courses are available from CAFRE (https://www.cafre.ac.uk/short-courses/aphis-online-aol-training/) which can help you;

  • Notify cattle births, deaths and stillbirths
  • Notify movements on/off your holding
  • Maintain your herd book online
  • View herd list including movement and progeny history
  • View herd test and ante/post mortem results
  • Produce nitrate stock count reports
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