Digital Farming and Analog Roadkill

If video killed the radio star, then smartphones sent many farm practices and traditions to the graveyard. They were mercy killings in most cases—who wants CDs or cassettes in their truck cabs if digital music is flowing from the clouds? But as the tech highway turns into an expressway on many farms and ranches, we might end up with a few bits of analog roadkill that we’ll miss.

A look at some items from the digital hit list: radios, landlines, pocket watches, three-legged stools, 
sack swings–and maybe the setting sun.

The available apps were impressive!

Nowadays, if you can find a transistor radio in a store, it’s probably covered with dust on a shelf next to a stack of VHS tapes. For many farmers, a portable radio provided weather forecasts, grain market reports, and sports scores. At our noon family meal, Dad would turn down the farm show just long enough for the prayer. After that, we kids could chat and be goofy as long as he could hear the livestock prices and USDA grain projections. Smartphones provide weather radar, podcasts, and up-to-the-minute market info. Transistor radios are an endangered species.

Cell phones initiated a slow euthanasia for landline phones years ago when the cord was severed. Some farmers still have a unit on the wall, but gone are the days of rotary dial or party-line systems. It used to be fun listening in on others who shared the party line–a type of neighborly hacking–but now farmers can have their smartphones anywhere. An old crank phone never did fit on a tractor, and the extension cord would have been massive.

A true bib overall-wearing old timer used to have a pocket watch–usually hidden away in some Hobbit-like flap. They’d flip the cover, check the time, and fiddle around with the wind-up knob. Smartphones have the time and so much more—after all, you could be out in the pasture and suddenly need to know what time it is in Cupertino or Ulan Bator. 

Smartphones can also monitor and control other farm functions. Our old barn no longer has a cow stall or a three-legged stool. Many dairy operations now use sensors and automatic devices. The robots don’t seem to mind if Bossy swings her tail, swatting flies and scattering mud. A few farmers even have “bovine fitbits” on their cows—no virtual boxing classes or hot yoga sessions yet as far as I know, but they can check their screens to see if Bossy has a fever. 

With smartphones and other digital technology, farmers can control soil testing, watering systems, and seed orders with the touch of a screen. They don’t need to visit the feed store–or wherever farmers used to gather—to get information or hear gossip. Google Search can tell them what new herbicide works best on pigweed, and a Twitter site might keep them up on who’s bidding what on that 160 acres outside of town. You still have to go to high school football games or church socials to get the really juicy gossip.

With precision farming on the rise, the possibilities for smartphone use are as wide as the Midwest horizon. Even leisure time can be affected. Farmers and their kids are tempted with the latest version of online games like Farmville or Hay Day. Eventually, the analog roadkill museum could include baseball gloves, kites, and the old sack swing that used to hang from an oak tree limb.

With bigger screens, better sound, crisper colors, and maybe even refined scratch-and-sniff capabilities, smartphones will make it so we don’t need to leave our living rooms. We won’t need to walk down to the bridge on the lane to watch the blue heron fish in the backwater, the snapping turtle lounge in the mud, or a small bull snake slither into the grass. The last rays of sunlight in the west and the rising moon in the east will be impressive, and the smell of new cut hay will float in from the neighbor’s field, but you’ll suddenly feel a phantom vibration and realize you left your brand new jumbo-screen iPhone in the house. Better rush back to check if anyone else took a good picture of the sunset.  

by dan gogerty (top pic from and bottom pic from

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