Tech for Today:

Going Tech Down on the Farm

[March 2020 | By Paul Russell]

So, what does Farmer John do with a cell phone? And why does he need a tablet? Well, he can count his chickens or head of cattle, photograph his flock or his herd, and keep track without having to carry pencil and paper or run back to the barn and hope he remembers what he forgot to write down.

His handheld digital devices can take the place of the little mechanical calculator he used to use or the paper ledgers he once kept. Now, I haven’t met a farmer yet—over the age of 50—who’s all that willing to learn new technology. It’s a slow, laborious process for many, and downright impossible for others.

But they’re getting there. Most are pretty adept at using the clicker that changes TV stations. This isn’t really all that more complicated. (Less so, to my mind, since I still can’t figure out that stupid “universal” channel changer.) But I do get how my phone works, and every day it offers up new surprises. (Mostly good.)

So, here’s one way to resolve the farmer’s tech gap. Start with a smartphone. Most farmers do carry them now—and after you explain why it’s “smart,” show Farmer John what he can do with it. With that one device he can tell time, check the weather, peruse the Farmer’s Almanac, track when the tractor is going to run out of gas, the chickens out of feed, and his cattle out of hay. And with the punch of a few buttons (usually too small for his big calloused fingers), he can order the feed or hay…and hopefully make it back to the barn in time to gas up. Pretty slick, right? It’s a multitasking device!

Next, help him learn how to take pics of the grandkids, then translate that talent into photographing the livestock. Tag ’em, brand ’em, and take their picture for your records. Keep track of the friendly ones and know which are the mean bulls so you can give them a lot of room. One farmer I know names his cows, steers, and bulls, and remembers every one of them. He scrolls through the picture gallery on his phone to tell me their individual stories.

He may find the tablet easy to use as well, if he’s patient, curious, and determined. It’s a dandy database tool for recording all things farm-related, including receiving and paying bills—provided he’s willing to pay online and forgo paper checks. That one’s tougher’ most farmers I know, at least the older ones, don’t trust the Internet. And some, are likely to take that pitchfork to the tablet out of pure frustration.

Who can comfortably (and successfully) undertake this educational process? Grandkids, of course. By the time they’re in kindergarten, they’ve mastered digital devices. And, as we all know, there is a special bond between grandparent and grandchild. Digital training is just another handy way to strengthen that bond. Go forth, Farmer John, and buy that cell phone. But be sure to take the kid with you to show you how it works when you get home!