Wearable Tech, Ag, and Hormones

Wearable tech could be coming to a farm near you. According to this report, devices like Google Glass allow the users to perform Web applications without using their hands. Apparently, some farmers are already employing the devices to analyze crops, communicate with mechanics, and spy on their milk cows.
Cool stuff, and we’ll probably all get used to farmers wearing oversized Buddy Holly glasses while they recite statistics about nitrogen leaching and the serial numbers of a v-belt needed for their monster combine. On the other hand, we did have alternatives when I was growing up on a Midwest farm in the 1960s. Some examples: 

  1. A new wearable tech feature provides the ability to scan a cob of corn and count its individual kernels within seconds to determine the crop’s yield. Doing such visual scanning might make me feel like the Terminator, but it does sound useful. However, in the old days farmers were able to make such calculations by cruising the country roads. Pa Kettle would drive slowly by his neighbors’ fields, performing a “windshield survey,” and gathering enough info to tell his buddies at the hardware store, “Looks like Anderson has a weed problem on the back forty. Won’t get more than 110 bushels to the acre, I reckon.” 
  2. Speaking of weeds in fields, these new apps might be able to scan acres to pinpoint problems such as cockleburs, buttonweeds, and pig weed. I suppose the wearable smartphone will then contact a smartdrone that swoops in to zap the weeds, but during my farm days, that’s what we kids were for. Dad didn’t need GPS or Google Earth maps. On dew-laced summer mornings, he’d hand us gloves and point us to the soybean fields. “Remember to pull ‘em out by the roots. And you’ll get done a lot faster if you don’t start clod fights or go wading in the creek over the fence along the north side.” 
  3. Machine repairs will no doubt be better with wearable tech. A farmer looks at the ailing computer in the cab of his air-conditioned combine and communicates directly with a technician who might be in Lone Tree, Iowa, or Mumbai, India. That’s less personal but more efficient than the old days when a farmer would use his party line telephone to call Jim the mechanic in town and say, “Looks like the bearings are shot on that cylinder head. Could my wife pick some up at your shop when she drives in to deliver eggs this afternoon?” 
  4. Crops won’t be the only part of agriculture that benefits from wearable tech. Hogs, sheep, and heifers might giggle a bit at first, but they’ll get used to a geeky-looking farmer analyzing them with Google Glass vision to see if they are sick or not gaining weight fast enough. One company offers a wearable device for milk cows—the MooMonitor+. It keeps track of the cow’s fertility and hormonal cycle—apparently this leads to a higher rate of successful pregnancies. We only had one milk cow on our farm, but the old Guernsey communicated just fine without tech. If she didn’t like the way you were squeezing out the milk, she swung a mud and manure tinged tail at your head while you sat milking on the three-legged stool. No way I would have ever pried into details about her sex life.

New farm tech is always interesting, but it could be a bit weird talking to a farmer friend wearing Web-accessed, horn-rimmed glasses. Won’t one eye keep flicking up to that tiny screen? I guess I can put up with the “Google eye” syndrome—but I hope he never stares at me trying to analyze my nitrogen balance or my hormonal cycles. 

by dan gogerty (top pic from agweb.com; bottom pic from satirewire.com)

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