“I think he’s trying to grow cellphones.”
Mom and I shared a dose of much-needed laughter after her off-the-cuff comment. In that spring of 2009, we attempted to plant corn and soybeans amidst the wettest planting season on record. Tractors had been stuck in the mud and planting delayed. On top of that, my dad drove over his new, two-week-old cellphone twice: once with a planter and later with a tillage implement that buried it.
The soil rang. He found the phone. The dirty device still could dial the local equipment dealership in the event of a breakdown. However, the shattered screen left him unable to change the wimpy ring tone or even consider reading a text message about the commodity markets. A new phone soon suspended from a bungee cord on his collar.
Mobile phones and smartphones arguably have surpassed the importance of pliers to the daily farmer attire. They have yet to grip a bolt head, but provide access to farm markets and keep us abreast of imminent rain showers. Our farm family has grown as dependent on a mobile device as the 90-some percent of Americans who own one. Even my grandparents, at more than 50 years on the farm, carry the mobile service.
Smartphones allow us to monitor market prices and view important industry reports from the tractor cab or machine shop. Business emails and phone communications create a mobile office for prompt and important decision-making. We see up-to-date weather forecasts, monitor rainy radar images and speed-dial the local farm equipment dealership for parts, as needed.
We choose our mobile service provider based on reception from a remote cornfield about 25 miles from the nearest city. Reliable reception proves paramount as my brother monitors the dryer at our farm’s grain storage site between his phone and other mobile devices.
The phone’s calculator application computes machinery costs and yield estimates during business conversations. Its flashlight function illuminates the inner workings of a combine for repair or leads the search for a dropped tool in the dark. My husband even photographed the rural landscape view from atop our farm’s 140-foot grain leg while he performed maintenance – just because his cellphone can.
We use cellphones to locate one another on the farm, whether field, shop, tractor or farmyard. During mowing season, Mom and I clip the device to our collars to hear it ring over the lawnmower’s roar.
The phones in our pockets carry more potential than we have tapped into. The future likely will bring exciting conveniences, too. But for now, the heart of its use on our farm remains conversation, both business and social. The same phone that calls the local grain elevator to market corn and soybeans also orders the Sunday night pizza. It texts a question about production records and reaches the farmwife seldom seen when planting season peaks. That is, as long as no one attempts to plant a crop of cellphones.