PENNY HAW: Modern farmers just dig technology
FARMING has changed a great deal since my grandfather and father practised it years ago. And I blame technology.
Last week, the Cape Times reported that a Durbanville farmer, Erard Louw, had installed a GPS tracker device to keep tabs on his sheep. During his slot on 567 Cape Talk and Talk Radio 702 on Friday, comedian Nik Rabinowitz cleverly tagged the system "the Shee-P-S ". But I'm not sure it's a joking matter: farmers and farm workers are getting soft.
When I was a kid, herding the sheep required a full-time herdsman, not full-time electronic surveillance. And, when we were home from boarding school for weekends, my brothers and I earned pocket money by shepherding the silly creatures on horseback.
It was no easy task, particularly for one with eyesight as poor as mine: my brothers got their jollies by despatching me kilometres across the fields to round up what turned out to be, not a herd of sheep, but a cluster of boulders. Funny? No. But did I cry? No. Because I was a robust boeremeisie (who retaliated with a whip). And, as if it's not bad enough that farmers use technological devices to herd their livestock, they even inspect their crops from behind their desks. Multispectral images taken by satellites are fed to computers, which calculate how much water and fertiliser are required in various places. Automated sprayers are then activated in the fields - no muddy boots required.
"Town clowns," I hear my grandfather scoff from beyond the grave. Technology, however, is not only responsible for indulging the folk on the farm: even Molly the cow is mollycoddled. Wisconsin-based business Advanced Comfort Technology can't keep up with demand for its Dual-Chamber Cow Waterbeds. Waterbeds? For cows? Yes siree. Dairy farmers are falling over themselves trying to get hold of the rubber mattresses. The beds cost $260 each and, says the maker, "lend comfort, suspending the cow's pressure points, gently moving with her skin, and creating a convex surface that stays clean and dry".
But the agricultural applications of technology are not, it seems, limited to convenience and comfort: they're used for safety too.
On a trip through the Northern Cape recently, I overheard (OK, I eavesdropped) two farmers discussing a new iPhone case that doubles as a 650000 volt stun gun. When I got home, I googled it.
Yellow Jacket is not only an iPhone case; it also functions as an additional battery for the phone, giving an additional 20 hours of use - provided you don't use the stun feature. It was created by someone robbed at gunpoint in his home and adds minimal weight to the phone and "in no way hinders a user from one-handed operation". The shock it delivers is "incapacitating and capable of inflicting pain and injury, but the effects are temporary and a victim will recover in a matter of minutes".
For sure, farming has changed a great deal, but, as ever, "'n boer maak 'n plan".
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