Thursday, January 5, 2017

An App to Control Our Ag Apps



I recently heard about an app that helps parents organize and control their kids’ smartphones. They have the ability to monitor a 16-year-old's movements and even shut off all power on the phone. Seems to me it blends a helping of guardian angel with a strong dose of Big Brother. 

Maybe farmers already have a “master app” also. They’ll need it. This tech site describes just seventeen of the hundreds of apps agriculture folks can now access. Of course, downloading them might involve a payment, and it no doubt means surrendering information. But precision ag is here to stay as long as satellites fly and the grid stays gritty.

I was impressed when I read the description of the Pocket Rain Gauge app—you get hourly moisture updates about all your fields. I thought back to my childhood farm days and the precipitation app we had in the 60s—it was called “Dad.” His main rain gauge was nailed to the side of the pump house, and he kept a pencil stub with it so he could write rainfall amounts on the white boards. The side of the tiny building eventually looked like a type of Midwest hieroglyphic art. 

Dad also attached gauges to fence posts, and he religiously listened to farm reports on local AM radio. But the science was inexact. If the rain was spotty, we might find out where the heaviest fell when a tractor got stuck in the south 40 cornfield or if the cut hay at Uncle Pat’s place was too tough to bale. 

Farmer chitchat at the local feed store added to the data cloud. “Judging from the sound on the tin roof of my machine shed, we musta had near half an inch.” Others suspected that the weather gods sometimes interfered. “Heard they got two inches up by Hubbard. They’ve been gettin’ it just right all summer while my corn—just six miles south—looks dry enough to roll it up and smoke it.”

A weed app featured in the tech article also caught my attention. It apparently can identify weeds and provide needed information. Once again, our Dad App did that for us back in analog days. “Boys, the soybeans are loaded with cockleburs, buttonweeds, and thistles. If you start early, the heat won’t be too bad. Remember--pull 'em out by the roots.”

A couple of other new ag apps have more of an eye-in-the-sky feel to them. They can coordinate movement on the farm and beyond by showing where each tractor and worker might be. Good to know where the grain wagon is on its way to the town elevator, and helpful to locate the hay rack if someone has a flat tire hauling in a load. 

But this feature takes me back to the Orwellian parental control app I mentioned before. Back in our teen days, it would have been acceptable for our Dad App to know where we were on the tractor, but after farming hours we were just fine being off the grid. No need for a digital nanny when we were scoopin’ the loop, cruisin’ the back roads, or catchin’ the late show at the drive-in theater.

The Dad App had all the answers back then. Who knows--as this article says, maybe a type of agrarian Amazon Echo will pull it all together for farmers nowadays. "Alexa, what's the future of farming?" "I am." 

by dan gogerty (background of top pic from DoItYourself.com; Echo pic from agprofessional.com)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Science Breakthroughs, an Eccentric Ag Man, and Bovine Equestrians


When a new year arrives, we can hear it slouching toward us like a menacing balrog with challenges and disasters clinging to its shadowy form. Or we can anticipate its opportunities and start working on making the world (and Middle Earth) better. Science is one way to defeat the balrogs. We all know that tech and innovation can have mixed results, but sound science has led to advances in medicine, agriculture, and many other facets of life. In the first link below, a BBC article says it is a good time to reflect on some positive breakthroughs from last year. In the second article, farmer and ag specialist Blake Hurst considers the fact that the new year will bring us a new Secretary of Agriculture. And he reminds us of a "crazy, talented" secretary of the past. The final link below delves into a bit of "bovine equestrianism."  


**  This year has seen the birth of the first three-person baby, a dangerous Zika epidemic, and a huge injustice overturned by medical science. There were also breakthroughs in a range of deadly diseases. This BBC site includes a short, informative video and a list of several science stories from the past year--and many advances that give people hope.


Hannah Simpson and her jumping cow.
   **  According to Blake Hurst, the most interesting Secretary of Agriculture was Henry Wallace, who was not only a talented agriculture leader, but he was possibly the craziest. He was also Secretary of Commerce, Vice President of the U.S., and a failed candidate for President. Oh yes, he also said he was a reincarnated Iroquois warrior, a dabbler in “creative” religions, and an admirer of the Soviet Union in pre-WWII days.

**  Problem Solving--This New Zealand girl didn’t have a horse so she taught her cow to jump instead. As the video at the bottom of the article shows, they probably aren't ready to enter Olympic dressage competitions, but the young Kiwi certainly seems adept at riding the bovine without a saddle.

by dan gogerty (photo from foxnews.com) 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Holiday Farm Gatherings--Phubbing and Face-to-Face Chaos



Some holiday rituals are frozen in analog time, and a gathering at our old farm homestead confirmed that, as of now, our clan has not joined the “dī tóu zú” tribe. Apparently the Chinese use that term for those with “perpetually bowed heads.” Their lowered gaze is constantly looking at a smartphone, and they are oblivious of those around them. At our annual gathering, you couldn’t afford to have your head down because you might miss out on the food, singing, card playing, and grab-bag gifts—or you might get run over by a herd of small kids on some type of toy mission. 

Maybe the setting keeps the event rooted in the past. Forty or more gathered on a farm that has been in the family since 1856, and at this time of year the Midwest landscape can be stark—especially when a polar vortex has crept down from the Dakotas. With the sun out on a sub-zero day, the frigid beauty includes frost-lined fences and expansive fields perforated with frozen corn stubble. Snow-tinged pine trees add to the holiday effect on my brother’s farm, and across the road—down a narrow, winding lane—my parents’ white house and red barn nestle in among groves that include two epic trees. The tall, scraggly cottonwood and the ancient, mushroom-shaped oak have lost their leaves, but they stand defiant in the winter glare.

The small creek between the two farms has ice forming on the edges, but it still meanders along to the bigger creek in the north pasture. Beavers have constructed a dam this year—the best we’ve seen in some time. Gnawed saplings and worn trails show their process; the still water behind the dam provides a place to store food and hide access to the dens they have in the banks.

If dangerous temperatures had not set in, we would have taken the kids out in the afternoon to see the dam—and to go sledding down the hill in the pasture. Even in winter the farms provide hay lofts, creek beds, and snow drifts enough to make up a type of old-school Pokémon Go setting—plenty of adventures and discoveries without the hassle of having a digital device in hand.

On this cryogenic day, the action was inside. The kids (all under ten years old) were tactile, and that meant using more than just their thumbs. They built forts with cardboard building blocks; they played restaurant with plastic kitchen and food items; and most gratifying for some of the elders, a few of them played with the old red barn. “Hey, where are those little bales of hay?” a four-year-old asked. He wanted to use the wagon to transport hay back to the barn where he had positioned plastic cows and horses. Sometimes a batman figurine or a green army tank wandered into his barnyard, but the youngster is a city kid, so he’s allowed to do some creative farming.

A large, plastic airplane and a detailed model of the Lusitania both ended up flying around the main room, but no one was hurt, and because of the crowded conditions, the kids didn’t throw balls or launch nerf rockets on this particular day. Most of them did stop the chaos long enough to join in as my sister played carols on the piano, and the kids paid attention during gift time when they received stockings filled with everything from silly putty to Pez dispensers.

Of course the digital world did show up. Parents held up smartphones long enough to take photos and videos. At one stage my brother walked around with a large iPad because his son and family were Skyping from Germany. To use Merriam-Webster’s 2016 word of the year, it was surreal—like a movable portrait floating calmly as we sent our chaos to their smaller chaos thousands of miles away. The youngsters thought nothing of this communication miracle. Some of us elders remembered crackling phone lines and postmarked aerogrammes of the past.

Digital tech has its place, but on this day no one used computer games or streaming football to commit phubbing. Why snub others by staring at a screen when the intergenerational tumult around us was so much fun? Farms have traditionally been fertile ground for gatherings of families and friends who hold their heads up and interact face-to-face. And it no doubt takes place in plenty of urban settings too. Even in this brave new cyber world, many folks have resisted “dī tóu zú” membership, and they belong to the “we see you” tribe.

** Click here for a previous blog about traditional kids' gifts--and farming the carpet. 

** And click here for a look at farm kids on snowbound days--the cabin fever app.  



by dan gogerty