Thursday, April 30, 2009
Last summer, an enthusiastic fellow from the East Coast was trying to show me some of the new features on his iPhone. Problem was he couldn’t get a signal from the carrier, AT&T--right here in the middle of Des Moines, Iowa.
It was pretty plain that your phone is only as smart as its connectivity. Issues like pricing and customer service are key, too, but meaningless if you’re sitting it a dead spot.
Farmers and ranchers know about dead spots in broadband coverage. There has been a long-standing digital divide between urban and rural America.
The recent good news is that companies like Apple and Verizon are moving to boost coverage and features that will make smart phones more available and useful in the country.
In early April, Verizon Wireless announced it will launch a new 4G wireless broadband network that eventually will extend across rural America.
And, this week Verizon Wireless and Apple were reported to be in discussions about a partnership to sell a new iPhone, one that would work on the Verizon network, and thus offer expanded connectivity out in the country.
If the deal is realized and the network pans out, it could be a big step for agriculture, says Michael Lewis, a central Iowa farmer and computer systems operator.
Lewis sees smart phones as the wave of the future for farm communications, with potential for housing a wide range of ag applications, including GPS, real time soil sampling and mapping, instant fertilizer analysis, chemical and seed quick conversions, weed identification, a farmer knowledge base, and more.
Currently, he uses his phone to access weather, news, sports, maps, weather, stock reports and special farm-related applications.
For the time being, if Verizon is your best carrier, a Blackberry is your best choice of smart phone, he says. He points out, too, that Windows embedded has "a huge presence in agriculture equipment and devices, so a Windows Mobile phone might seem like a logical choice because of familiarity."
But a Verizon-iPhone deal could be a game changer.
“For sure the iPhone is the best smart phone out there,” he says. “If you have AT&T service in your area then it would be the one for you [now].”
Lewis prefers the the iPhone for its user interface, ease of application development, and application delivery through the Apple store. Apple claims that more than 25,000 apps now exist for the iPhone 3G.
"As more applications are developed for the the iphone, I see an increase in the amount of accessories and interfaces between Windows embedded devices and smart phones like the iPhone," he says.
Beyond the connectivity questions, the biggest issue with smart phones is their durability for farm use, Lewis says. He recommends a product called Invisible Shield.
“It really protects the device well and is very affordable. The material is the same that is used on helicopter blades.”
Posted by John Walter at 8:29 AM
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Beef stick donations hitch a ride to Middle East on KC-135 tanker.
It’s a common sight in air travel these days to see U.S. military personnel traveling on commercial planes. In a trip I made from Atlanta to Milwaukee last week, there were about a half dozen young soldiers on the flight. Dressed in their battle uniforms, they were conspicuously mixed in with another group—college students returning from a conference in Atlanta. The college kids were having fun. The soldiers were quiet.
As the plane touched down in Milwaukee, the flight attendant invited a round of applause for the soldiers. There was a loud, long response from the civilians—an unrehearsed patriotic moment.
I recalled that in the same week two aggie acquaintances had talked with me about projects they were involved with to support the troops.
Den Gardner, director of the American Agricultural Editors Association, has helped spearhead a program called Project EverGreen, which provides free lawn and landscape service to military families with members serving overseas. The effort has helped 7,700 military families through a national network of 2,100 volunteers, Den says.
A new phase of the program will fund scholarships for military family members. Gardner's group is making a push to raise contributions from now until Armed Forces Day on May 16. If you’re interested in donating to the program, check out this link for more info:
In another effort, a farm couple from western Iowa, Ted and Dee Ann Paulsrud, have been managing a program to send beef sticks to the troops serving in the Middle East. The Iowa Beef Sticks for the Troops has gathered enough donations to send some 60,000 of the treats overseas.
About half of the cost of the effort is in transportation, Ted says. But, that cost is being defrayed through cooperation of a statewide grocery chain and the 185th Air Refueling Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard in Sioux City, Iowa. Once the Paulsruds collect enough money to buy a pickup load of beef sticks, they have them hauled by the grocery to the Air Guard unit to be loaded on a tanker headed to the Middle East.
If you’re interesting in contributing to the beef stick campaign, contact: Ted and Dee Ann Paulsrud, 4980 320th St., Danbury, Iowa 51019, or phone (712) 883-2249.
Both of these programs have gotten a good response from their beneficiaries, their organizers say. The Paulsruds recently received a U.S. flag and note of thanks from the Air Force officers attached to the 185th.
Lawn care, scholarships, and beef sticks may not win a battle or bring peace to the Middle East, but these are heart-felt efforts to support the troops and families at a grassroots level.
Contributing a little something to them seems like another way to give our soldiers a rousing round of applause.
Posted by John Walter at 6:22 PM
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
This week, I’m attending the annual conference of the National Agricultural Marketing Association (NAMA) in Atlanta, Georgia. This is the premier meeting of the professionals who buy and create advertising for your farm and ranch communications.
NAMA features panel discussions, a trade show, and a college student marketing competition. An awards program tonight will recognize the most creative, effective advertising campaigns for all media--print, television, direct mail, the Web, etc.
One of the new challenges for marketers is creating messages that work well in new media—websites, e-mail newsletters, and mobile devices. Social media—Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and our own Farmers for the Future social network—present another kind of challenge to advertisers: how to compete for your attention amid all the new user-generated content.
One way advertisers are using to get their messages across is to push them into the editorial space. “Expandable” units intrude into the editorial when you roll over them with your computer mouse. Some others simply pop up over your content when the page loads. You have to close the ad to view your editorial material.
I hope advertisers continue to rely on their creativity, rather than intrusiveness, in new media. It will be interesting to see what trends are showcased at this year’s NAMA awards program.
For me, the most effective campaigns use compelling visuals and language to invite your attention, as demonstrated in some recent Successful Farming magazine ads:
• Product comparisons--fuel efficiency test results from the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab. (John Deere)
• A useful bit of new research on the efficacy of soybean seed treatment. (Acceleron Seed Treatment System)
• Clear statement of value—durability, safety, warranty, etc. (Featherlite trailers)
• Words that work: “Measuring this harvest in bushels is like measuring a swimming pool in tablespoons.” (Syngenta Quilt)
• Dynamic visuals--closeup photo of work boot and soil. (AGCO Challenger)
On the Web, here are a few examples of ads currently on Agriculture Online that I think that provide compelling and useful information for farmers--without getting in your face.
Cruiser Maxx Beans
Cargill “fitter fry”
What kinds of agricultural advertisements do you like best? Least?
Posted by John Walter at 6:35 AM
Thursday, April 9, 2009
(Photograph used with permission from Chuck Henningsen)
While taking a brief family vacation in Taos, New Mexico, this week, I couldn’t help but think about agriculture, even though the economy there is clearly centered on tourism—outdoor sports, fine art, and Native American culture.
But agriculture certainly exists in Taos, if you look around a little. Some of my first impressions of it:
• A guy selling pinion nuts out of the back of his pickup.
• A small herd of scraggly cows grazing bone-dry range.
• A pickup load of red chili peppers parked in front of a grocery store.
• A truck pulling a flatbed of big square bales on Route 68 along the Rio Grande.
The agrarian roots of Taos are found at the Pueblo, the longest continuously inhabited community in the United States, and presumably birthplace to our oldest agriculture. The adobe homes we visited there were built between 1000 and 1450 A.D.
No obvious signs of extensive farming exist today. On the road through the reservation, I saw a few ranchettes that kept some horses. Like Taos itself, the industry at the Pueblo is in selling art to tourists. But, the tribe still celebrates a harvest festival every September. And local farmers bring their produce to a weekly farmers market in town.
We stayed in an old adobe cottage near the center of Taos, a place that turned out to make us neighbors to an artist from Iowa. Chuck Henningsen’s gallery was a short walk along an ancient irrigation ditch, up a lane flanking his aquatic gardens.
Henningsen graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in industrial engineering. He took his first job with Hewlett-Packard in the Bay Area and later started his own own company in Silicon Valley. Success in that business paved his way to the Southwest and to a long, successful career as a fine art photographer.
While touring his gallery, I discovered Henningsen's Midwest roots in a photograph of a corn crib he took in northeast Iowa.
On Monday, we sat in the middle of his gallery and talked about art and agriculture, in which time he told me about the recent hard times in Taos. Taos has had as many as 2,200 working artists, but the art world has shrunk to a fraction of what it was a year ago, he said.
The number of galleries likely will decline from about a hundred to less than half that this year. Art is "ethereal," he said. And, as such the arts have been the first to suffer in this depressed economy.
Seeing the connection of the old traditions of the Taos Pueblo, which gives the region its soul and authenticity, to the town's modern art and culture, one thinks of the Daniel Webster quote:
"When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization."
One hopes that the "other arts" of Taos will continue to flourish--along with the time-tested Pueblos.
Posted by John Walter at 11:03 AM