Wednesday, March 27, 2013

If Video Killed the Radio Star, Smartphones Put My Transistor on Life Support

World Radio Day Feb. 13, 2015

Update: Check out this article about the hassles of trying to find an old style transistor radio.

I’m not ashamed to admit it—I still use a transistor radio. It’s about the size of a cellphone, and it offers a few more features than the pocket version I had on the farm in the 60s. But it’s not much different from the device that provided news, weather, sports, and tinny pop songs in the Dick Clark era.

I blame two things for my addiction—the Farm and Dad. Along with the prayer before the meal, the noon farm report was sacred ground for Dad. He could hold a decent conversation and keep us boys from flicking peas at each other while simultaneously listening to farm interviews on a scuffed up transistor held together with a strip of duct tape.

In later years, Dad’s stab at an exercise routine included brisk walks around the farm—but it was really an excuse to listen to ag reports. He may be the only exercise walker who ever wore 5-buckle boots and had a transistor propped to his ear. He claims his habit began as a kid when his family huddled around a big radio console to hear Dick Tracy dramas, Louis-Schmeling championship fights, and the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic.

I inherited the affliction early. My gateway experiences were innocent enough—I’d take a transistor to bed on Christmas Eve to hear festive carols. Soon enough, the Beatles invaded and disc jockeys become “cool,” so we had to keep up with the trends. On Saturday mornings we’d prop a radio on a dusty beam in the hog house so we could pitch manure to the beat of Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang.”  We might have a static-filled transistor in our pockets while we walked bean fields or sat on a tractor cultivating corn. 

By age 15 I was still snuggling up at night with a transistor, but now I was catching the 10:00 p.m. top-three countdown from WLS in Chicago. Nothing like falling asleep to the Stones singing “19th Nervous Breakdown.” Without internet or cable TV, radio was a pipeline to the outside world, and with the 50,000 watt AM stations of old, we could pick up “exotic” locations like Little Rock, Arkansas.  A late night show called Beaker Street featured spacy sound effects, a spacier DJ named Clyde Clifford, and music ranging from early Hendrix to Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.”

Radio was our ESPN in those days, and even though college basketball and football were popular, baseball was king. During October, school boys rigged up hidden transistors and ear cords to catch a few innings of World Series play during riveting English class lessons about diagramming sentences.

But transistors are fading into the analog sunset. Many young people have no idea what one is—and why should they? Smartphones and other devices give them YouTube, XM, Pandora, and other online options. If today’s big box electrical stores have any radios at all, they’re usually on an endangered species shelf in the back, behind the last 3-pack of VHS tapes.

I too enjoy digital sounds, but I haven’t completely kicked the transistor habit. Mine is small enough to carry while jogging or shove in a pocket during yard work sessions. To true addicts, transistors are almost spiritual. Dad and I agree—we’d like a transistor sent along with us when we move into the next life. Dad wants it to keep up with the grain markets and hog prices. I just want one handy for the next few hundred years of World Series games in case the Cubs finally win one.  That might be enough to bring anyone back from the dead.                      
by dan gogerty (top pic from, radio photo from

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Nutrients---from Fertilizer to Honey Wagons

Update Feb. 2014: 
This article points out that manure can be a gold mine for livestock producers.

More articles about "nutrients"...

Turning Poop into Fertilizer--Sustainable ag includes knowing what to do when "manure happens." As this farmer says, "Today we’re going to follow our noses to the barn where we are turning poop into fertilizer. When something is removed from the land, you have to put something back."

Manure--a Money Maker?  With the cost of fertilizer increasing, the manure produced by a livestock operation is often considered an additional source of income for an operation, rather than an expense. Putting a dollar value for manure can also help in decision-making for manure transactions and livestock expansions.

How well we research, plan, and implement the proper use of nutrients could influence how well we eat in the near future. A new CAST Issue Paper looks at the process shaping the current nutrient situation and the resulting requirements as world food production evolves during the next 40 years.  Food, Fuel, and Plant Nutrient Use in the Future is available free for download.  Speaking of nutrients...

When Post-Nutritional Waste Hits the Fan, It Might Be a Good Thing (updated from 2012)

Several current ag stories take me back to my manure pitchin' days on the farm, and I now realize how important that job was. We knew that animals make excellent natural fertilizer, but we had no idea we were scooping out energy-producing "fecal fuel"---or that we could one day be working for Google or Apple because of it. 

Using methane from pig manure, Apple plans to build an enormous fuel cell installation at its North Carolina data center. Google has been working on a manure-to-methane plant with Duke University, and a Kansas project, supported by the USDA, is researching ways to use waste from cattle feedlots. A dairy farm in Washington state is converting manure into money by making methane. In other words, manure is big business.
I still haven’t scraped all the manure off my boots, so I’m old school enough to appreciate the best thing about animal waste—it is a natural nutrient farmers use to make the crops grow.  This popular video called "Water 'n Poo" is an example of one of the many ways farmers recycle and sustain. The farmer drives, sings, and even radiates joy as he spreads his “honey” on the field.
During the pre-confinement era, hog houses had to be mucked out by hand, one pitchfork load at a time, and it was a Saturday morning ritual on our farm.  We’d prop a transistor radio on a dusty ledge, make sure our five-buckle boots were snug over our tennis shoes, and start slinging it. We’d talk, argue, yell top-40 lyrics, and think about how to get the smell out of our hair before the school dance that night.

Most Midwest farms today recycle manure in “honey wagons,” huge caldrons on trucks or behind tractors. They pull the liquefied manure from pits next to the confinement “motels” that dot the countryside.  This “smell of money” can raise issues.

Some communities try to restrict hog confinement placement, and letters to the editor reflect deep emotions concerning this situation. Some claim regulations are overly strict and the industry is vital to agricultural growth; others worry about health issues, decreased property values, and threats to groundwater. Although most seem to accept that hog farming is a vital industry, it’s the location that often raises a stink. You don’t need to be a scratch-and-sniff expert to know that manure smells different for the pig owners compared to the neighbors who live downwind. And water quality experts know that most farmers work hard to keep manure out of waterways, but fish kills and groundwater pollution in the Midwest indicate some problems still exist.

My brothers, cousins, and I generally worked without parental oversight on those barn-cleaning Saturday mornings. But occasionally, equipment would malfunction or a teenage argument would break out. When the “nutrients hit the fan,” we needed some regulating. Manure is a natural part of animal agriculture production, and now that the waste can be used for fuel as well as fertilizer, it is up to the producers and the public to figure out how much regulation the modern post-nutritional recyclers need.

by dan gogerty, photo from thedairymom.blogspot



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

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)