Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Three Ways to Communicate about Ag--Science, Cooperation, Guns

As an ag journalist, I read plenty of articles about the importance of agriculture communication. Many folks are interested in how food producers and various ag stakeholders convey their messages. Some seem concerned about image, while others focus more on credible information. Is it best to discuss issues politely on the front porch or yell and jump around in the barnyard? Their tactics certainly vary, as these three examples demonstrate.

“Scientists Are Human Too”

Professor Alison Van Eenennaam is a respected researcher and influential ag communicator from UC-Davis. During her recent speech at the National Press Club, “Communicating Science in a Networked World,” she emphasized the need for scientists to use facts and skills to shine a light on beneficial ag tech and innovation. She also thinks it is important that scientists show their “human side” as they communicate. Van Eenennaam uses humor, logic, and specific examples to get her point across.

“Communication Is a Two-way Street”

Ryan Goodman thinks science is important, but he also emphasizes ethics and understanding. He says that agriculturalists spend too much time worrying about the “lunatic fringe” and not enough time working with the public. A proud farmer and successful blogger, he advocates thoughtfulness, empathy, and a willingness to listen

“Appeal to Emotion, Not Science”

In this editorial, popular keynote speaker Damian Mason lays out reasons why he is willing to accept confrontation for the cause of agriculture. He wants a “well-organized, united front” to “take up the battle.” He admires the tactics used by the National Rifle Association. As he says, “Agriculture is under attack. It’s time to follow the NRA example.”

What's Up, Doc?

Doc Callahan knocks the farm dirt off his shoes and visits occasionally, so I asked him how he reacted to the three methods. He's been "communicating about ag" since his farm days at the local feed store and his years as a college professor. As he sees it...

"All three methods give us something to consider, but I think it’s always better to have the facts on my side. Van Eenennaam shows how science can have a human face. She's passionate about ag, but she has a fun side. Goodman seems like a fellow who knows what he believes but also knows how to listen to others. Seems like the type you wouldn't mind goin' fishin' with. As for the third style, I’m an NRA member myself, but I’m not much interested in focusing on words like battle and armed citizenry. I'm sure Mason doesn't always advocate confrontation, but he did say it’s no use taking a pitchfork to a gunfight. I’d rather gather up some scientific facts and rural common sense--and then find a reasoned debate. If you go looking for a gunfight, you’re just as likely to shoot yourself in the foot."

by dan gogerty (top pic from miller-mccune.jpg; bottom one from friendshipcircle.org)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

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)

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Smartphone Wise Enough to Power Down

Yes, of course there is a relaxation app called “Calm.” As the description says, “For a quick refresher mid-day, the app has nature scenes and calming background noises that aid relaxation during the instructed meditation, which focuses on breathing and body awareness.”

I’m surprised I didn’t hear of it earlier. Smartphone users are probably accessing plenty of meditation, zen, and chill out apps. I’d look them up, but then my search engine would contact a digital snoop group, and I’d be inundated with calls, email messages, and text blurbs about products and programs. “One time offer for $3.99. Download our Still Chill app that mixes the mindfulness of complete silence with the healing components of an entirely off-white screen.” Oh well, I’ve probably paid more than four bucks for pretty much nothing before.

I guess such an app is necessary for those caught in a concrete and steel world, but you'd think most folks could find an analog version of this app—parks, tree-lined streets, paths, and backyard gardens for starters. A farm offers obvious possibilities. As a matter of fact, I wonder if a smartphone would actually live up to its name if I accessed a “chill” app on my folks’ farm.

I can hear a Siri-like voice floating from the phone as I walk out the farmhouse door:

Stop; look up from the screen; see the bridge, creek, and pasture. Now power down and leave this phone behind. Listen to the gravel crunch beneath your feet as you approach the stream. Hear the sparrows chirp in the mulberry bush and the water bubble over rocks in the shallows. Tiny frogs launch from the bank, a school of minnows reflects the noonday sun, and a warm breeze rustles the prairie grass. Walk along the creek and don’t think of me or anything digital until you get back--if then.

Maybe it would be good for us all to leave the smartphone behind on a regular basis. The following two blog entries provide earlier looks at “Farm Calm” situations—and you don’t have to pay $3.99 for them.

Excerpt: A summer breeze ripples through the tasseling corn, a red-tailed hawk hovers over the back grove looking for mice, and the newly baled hay stacked in the nearby shed still has that intoxicating alfalfa-clover aroma. I doubt if there is an app for that.

Excerpt: The coneflowers, asters, and other prairie flowers bloom intermittently throughout the summer, and if the rains have been plentiful, muskrats make dens and trails in the boggy middle part. The few scrub trees are surrounded by prairie “rip-gut" grass, and butterflies float from milkweeds to black-eyed Susans. Goldfinches and meadowlarks chirp, ants swarm on large mounds, and a field mouse scurries through the undergrowth.

by dan gogerty (top photo from idownloadblog.com and bottom one from rxflyfishing.com)