Digital Clouds and the Good Earth

***  Update, March 15: some worthwhile ag/tech links. Top 5 Trends in Ag Technology; SXSW innovations that will affect us all, ag or not; tech to help with precision farming; and farmers using wireless tech. ***  

A recent editorial suggests that agriculture’s future is rooted as much in the digital cloud as in the good earth. The writer praised the now-famous Paul Harvey ad, but he says its farm images are “vestiges of a previous era.”  He continued, “If you want young people to be interested in agriculture, you need to make it about computers and scientific innovation, not milking the cows before dawn.”

Milking still occurs before dawn, but I see what the writer means. Many use robotic sensors and computer-managed systems to “squeeze not pull” on udders nowadays, and farmers can download new apps for just about anything. They go digital to keep up with grain markets, check the weather, or contact a mechanic. Major implement companies include mounted brackets for smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. A farmer in the field can now spend more time peering at a screen than looking at the crops.
It used to be dangerous driving country roads because the farmer approaching in a dusty pickup truck was gawking at the neighbor’s cornfield.  Now the farmer is a hazard because he has his head down checking grain reports on his smartphone. I still use a dumb phone, but things change, and I’ve tried to roll with the times. I tweet, blog, link, and download, but I can’t claim to be high tech.
Decades ago, our small town had one cafe, and the only thing digital about it was that the owner was missing parts of a few fingers on one hand—but he could cook up a mean plate of eggs and hash browns. I remember sitting at the counter, swinging my grade school legs and studying the signs posted on the wall near the gone fishin’ calendar. One said, “I’m not slow; I’m not fast; I’m half fast.” Of course I didn’t get it until years later, but now it seems an appropriate slogan for my tech aptitude.

So what’s that got to do with farming? Agriculture has gone high tech in many ways, and folks need to adapt to changes. A farmer shouldn’t aspire to be “half fast” with it all. And the editorial writer is correct. Young people are best suited to use the digital revolution to breathe new life into the world of agriculture. But for old-timers and youngsters alike, there may be times to unplug. Maybe not a techless Tuesday or Web-less weekend—just some natural moments of country zen each day.

Some tech guru supposedly said, “It doesn’t really exist until it’s in your digital cloud.” Every time I drive back to the family farm, I see and remember images that don’t quite fit on a screen—the smell of fresh-cut hay; a new-born calf rising on shaky legs; the sound of kids playing in the pasture on a hot summer day. I guess my digital cloud is in the fog along the creek and mixed in with the dust that rises from the gravel roads.   

by dan gogerty (photo from ars/usda)

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