Thursday, August 17, 2017

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

'May The Legacy of Dr. Borlaug Live On!'

August is "Celebrate CAST Members Month"

On August 31, 1971, seven societies voted to become members of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology--one being the Crop Science Society of America. "I can say that a part of that team saw great value in becoming a CAST member because they believed in the same goal as Dr. Norman Borlaug," stated Dr. David Baltensperger, a professor and department head of soil and crop sciences at Texas A&M University. That goal was to develop a vehicle that would provide information for decision makers and the general public by sharing the value in explaining new technologies that were coming on board to feed the world.

Baltensperger finds CAST's many services beneficial as they allow CSSA's members to be participatory in not only the discussion and dispersal of credible, scientific information, but additionally in the development of various CAST publications and educational material. "By being a member, CSSA is able to engage our membership in the work of CAST and link them to the services that CAST produces."

Much like Drew Lyon, Baltensperger stresses the importance of becoming a member of CAST. "This organization can serve as an outlet for various societies as they search for avenues to connect information to their audiences. We all, as societies, have matters that require our participation--the development of new technologies requires us to make the public aware of their benefits and the best management practices when using the technology." Baltensperger states that he joined as an individual member of CAST "once upon a time" because he felt that agriculture in general was much more than just the field that he was connected to. "All who are involved in the agricultural industry need to come together as scientists and agriculturalists to help make credible, science-based information readily available to the public. CAST is the perfect organization to serve as the leading force of this undertaking."

"Helping to drive CAST's mission is so important," states Baltensperger. "It plays a real role in developing the thought process of the public. If we are not at the table with credible, science-based information, then the voids can easily be filled with junk. The obvious cost of misinformation is high--some occasions more serious than others--but misinformation should not be the only information available."

If you are interested in reaping the benefits of CAST, as does CSSA, visit our website for more information or call us at 515-292-2125.

By: Kylie Peterson

Thursday, August 10, 2017

CAST's Youngest Member: Digging Deep into Agriculture and the Dirt

Jack enjoys seeing how plants survive--
but he's tough on weeds.

August is "Celebrate CAST Members Month"

This week CAST would like to feature our youngest member, who recently reach out to CAST staff about joining. Jack Liebeck, an eighth-grader from California, is not like most 13-year-olds. Instead of filling his free time with Sports Center and video games, Jack prefers to get his hands dirty in his garden. "I have always been interested in plants. I have a wide variety, including carnivores, fruits, vegetables, palm trees, and more. It's quite fascinating to see how a single plant has the ability to survive in various weather conditions."

CAST staff members are impressed by Jack being so proactive in pursuing opportunities that further his education and passion for agriculture at such a young age. What makes his story even more captivating is that just a few months ago, he purchased a greenhouse and is working on a website to document his journey. "Learning about plants is fun for me and never feels like work."

Eventually, Jack would like to pursue a career in landscape architecture. "I have assisted in multiple landscaping projects and am always eager to do yardwork for others and myself." For now, he is working to gain experience and knowledge about the wide varieties of plants, environments, and career opportunities agriculture has to offer.

Jack's pumpkins flowered in May; jack-o-lanterns by October?
Jack found CAST while exploring the internet for articles to meet his school reading requirements. "I believe that CAST will be a great resource for science-based information--I look forward to reading through the large variety of publications. I encourage my peers to use the CAST website if they are interested in sound science. I am only 13 and some of the articles were above my reading level, but I was still able to understand most of the information provided because of the small data summaries throughout the articles--making it easier to comprehend."

CAST is proud to offer a free membership to all students and pleased to welcome Jack as our newest and youngest CAST member.

By: Kylie Peterson