Ag News, Ron Burgundy, and Crooked Furrows

Agriculturalists are growing a new appendage. If you believe the numerous reports that claim more than 90% of farmers have smartphones, then you know the devices are taking root in calloused hands, leather belt pouches, and bib overall pockets. Digital use in the ag sector may be specialized, but one thing is widespread throughout the population—most of us get our news by looking at a screen. We read about government standoffs, sports results, or celebrity meltdowns by squaring up our eyes and peering at monitors, tablets, and rectangular phones.

                        Ron Burgundy Might Fit into This Clip

This short 1981 video on YouTube shows how this all started—and yes, Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy would not look out of place in this retro world. The breaking news of the day was that the first newspaper was available online. You could dial up a type of modem connection and have the San Francisco Examiner delivered to your computer screen. A few observations:
·        *  The download took at least two hours

          *  Only text came through—no pictures, ads, or comics

·                                * Phone hookups for computers cost at least $5 an hour
Thirty-two years later, and print newspapers are on life support. Statistics show that the majority of consumers get their news online. Folks in the ag/food industries use news flash updates, social media outlets, and specialized apps to get information. A farmer harvesting corn near Peoria might read a tweet about a trade negotiation that affects the grain markets—before the major news outlets release the story. A YouTube parody sung by farm brothers in Kansas might have more influence than the ag editorial written for the daily paper. Agriculturalists download podcasts about their specific interests to read—or ignore—later. It’s a cyber smorgasbord.
When I left the farm forty-some years ago, our news feeds were limited. The Des Moines Register was the state newspaper, local radio stations broadcast noon farm reports, and Walter Cronkite told us “that’s the way it is” each evening before we gathered for supper. Our news came at a certain time, and for the most part, we all shared in its nature. We didn’t all agree about things, but we had touchstones and common topics to discuss.
There’s Something to Say for Slow News
The variety and speed of today’s news is amazing, and no one wants to log off and dial up the black and white days of analog information. But modern devices hold a few dangers. We can tune into a 24/7 cable news outlet, join a specialized Twitter group, and sign on to only certain blogs—all focused on what we think and enjoy. We can use the digital world to affirm what we already believe and tell us what we want to hear. If we’re not careful, the fantastic array of choices can actually numb us and lead us into a type of cyber tunnel vision that locks in our views. There’s something to say for slow news at times—general discussions and debates that call for common sense, thought, and problem solving.
Then again, I don’t think that farmer in Peoria will power down his smartphone or shut off the monitor hooked to the bracket above his combine steering wheel. And that’s fine. He can set the GPS, program the robotic sensors, and watch a few innings of the World Series or catch up on the current grain markets. And if he nods off, a Siri-like voice can save him. “The hopper will reach capacity in two minutes. I recommend you transfer corn now. Do you want me to alert the robotic wagon?”
Beats the old days. If I nodded listening to the transistor radio while plowing, it was the crooked furrow or the tangled wire in the fence that alerted me, and their voices weren’t so soothing.   
by dan gogerty (photo from

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