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June 2012 Archive for Growing Technology

RSS By: Ben Potter,

Technology editor Ben Potter brings you the latest in technology news, and how you can apply it to farming.


Adventures in Farm Bill Headline Writing

Jun 21, 2012

 The Senate just passed the 2012 farm bill, a thousand-page behemoth that has captured the attention of a lot of different audiences. Close behind are the journalists, vying for a share of the discussion. The first and best way they do this is through headline writing.

A good headline manages expectations, and recent farm bill stories are no different. A good headline will let you know if the following article is straightforward analysis, or a scathing op-ed, or if it is meant to appeal to a particular special interest group.

I did a search for "farm bill" in Google News. Here is a sampling of the resulting headlines, from the good to the bad to the head-scratchers.

Ten Ways to Win an Argument

Jun 18, 2012

Farms are like any other business in that you have to make decisions from time to time that not everyone will agree with. You may even find yourself engaged in an argument from time to time. Chances are you don’t read TechRepublic, so I’m passing along some great advice they recently gave on having productive disagreements.

  1. Make sure there really IS a disagreement. Listen closely to what the other person is saying – you might be standing on common ground and not even realize it.
  2. Separate yourself from your position. Disagreements will become emotional and escalate quickly if you take it personally. Try to look at your position not literally as "your position," but as "a position."
  3. Maintain professionalism. Treat people with respect, and you will be treated with respect (usually). Golden Rule 101.
  4. Listen. To have an effective argument, you must make your point, but you must also allow the other person to make his or her point, too. Hear what they have to say.
  5. Recognize and avoid "straw man" arguments. You say, "If you put your CRP acres back into production, you don’t care about the environment." Congratulations, you just made a straw man argument. There are many ways farmers can be good stewards of the land, and it’s certainly easy to argue against a position that no one has.
  6. Agree to disagree. If an argument hits the proverbial brick wall, it makes little sense to continue to bash your head against it. Let it go, at least for the time being.
  7. Watch what you say. You can’t "un-say" words that you’ve spoken. My mom and Thumper’s mom (from Bambi) share the same advice: "If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all."
  8. Use a lower voice. This not only reduces tension, it also helps the other person listen to you.
  9. Try to see the other person’s point of view. Paraphrasing and summarizing the other person’s point of view before launching into your counterargument is a good way to do this.
  10. When the disagreement is resolved, put it behind you. Like Paul McCartney says, "Let it be." Let bygones be bygones. It’s good for conflict resolution, not to mention your blood pressure.

There you have it. Now go forth and argue!

Farmers Are Getting Older, But I Found the Silver Lining

Jun 13, 2012

The agriculture industry spends a lot of time wringing its collective hands over the average age of farmers, which has steadily increased over the years. Twenty years ago, the average principal farm operator was 50 years old. According to the most recent statistics, he or she is now 57 years old.

It’s a serious matter, to be sure. But let’s not be total pessimists –- there is a nice silver lining to our aging farmer population.

"It looks like retirement may be bad for your health," quips Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner, who points to a recent study conducted by the University of Zurich. According to the study, every year of early retirement will cost you about two months of life expectancy.

Dubner says working is tied to better physical and mental health, and calls on Florida psychologist Mo Wang for further explanation.

"Working actually gives you a way to structure your life, and that is very important," Wang says. "Usually people travel right after they retire, but after one or two years, they just sit at home and watch TV."

Farming certainly seems to boost longevity. In a recent poll, 59 percent of respondents said they have farmed for more than 30 years.

Your Phone Basically Does Everything Now

Jun 06, 2012

I’m relatively late to embracing smartphone technology. I’ve only had my Android device since last May. There are so many useful tools, with more emerging by the day, that I still feel like I’m in "discovery mode."

I spent some time this March reviewing several dozen farming mobile apps. News, marketing, weather, agronomy – there really does seem to be an app for everything.

Computer and smartphone technology are becoming more ever-present on the farm. Today, for example, I read about how AgLeader is using SMS software for crop insurance reporting. It’s an easier means of exporting harvest data directly from your tractor cab to your (and your insurance agent’s) computer. Processes like this that may have once been a hassle are now little more than an afterthought.

I’m always excited to hear how farmers are using their smartphones. What are the apps you use the most? What apps do you wish existed that don’t now? Or do you think these devices are horribly overrated? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to visit the AgWeb app store if you haven’t already.

Hey, How's It Going?

Jun 05, 2012

There’s never a dull moment in a reporter’s notebook.

My own notebooks tend to get filled quickly with interview notes, brainstorm ideas, and random thoughts chicken-scratched across the margins. Over time, portions are rearranged and distilled to become magazine articles in Farm Journal and Top Producer, and the rest is carefully filed away into storage.

That always seemed like a bit of a waste to me.

But here at Farm Journal Media, I have a blog for the first time. It’s a new chance to rescue all of the bits that don’t make it to print but certainly don’t deserve to collect dust in my file cabinet. Consider it what a Southerner might call lagniappe — a little something extra.

Thank you for letting me share a few extra thoughts with you. I hope you enjoy reading them.

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