Opinion: If I Hear ‘Dot Com’ One More Time …

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Frank Giles

My family owned and operated an ag retailer business in Georgia when I was growing up. The were a couple of worn benches in front of the storefront where farmers gathered to talk about news and events of the day. A lot of topics were covered on those benches and more than a few tall tales were told.

I recall one conversation back in the early days of the Internet when someone mentioned a new website that was all the buzz. I forget what the site was, but it was still a relatively novel thing to hear about a new website launching. At the time, sitting on the bench was an older grower who just wasn’t buying into all this technology — computers, websites, and so on.
Upon hearing of this new website, the grower said, “If I hear ‘dot com’ one more [expletive] time …” He wasn’t a big fan of the Internet. He was convinced it was a huge waste of time that would never lead to anything productive. If you spend any time on YouTube, he was right in some ways.
Fast forward 20 years from that conversation in front of my parents’ business, and consider how important the Internet has become in the commerce and social interactions of our daily lives. Consider how you would go about your job today in the absence of what that grower thought was a colossal waste of time.

It is important to point out this man who didn’t want to hear about another dot com was a great cotton and peanut grower in the area where I grew up. But, he did all his business and recordkeeping in one of those little spiral note pads that fit in your back pocket. It worked for him and was evident in the quality and yields of his crops.

The use of technology and how people will run their farms and business is generational by nature. The spiral notebook that worked for the grower 20 years ago is a spreadsheet or GIS mapping software today.
Our cover story this month introduced a new initiative called GenNext Growers. The network will be a place where young leaders in agriculture can interact and seek to improve skills necessary to run a business and be an advocate for agriculture.

As a first step in launching this program, we reached out to men and women we know who are taking leadership roles on their farms and in the ag community to ask about issues important to them. We’ll use their feedback to build a program tailored to the coming generation of growers.
The excitement over how technology can and will be used to improve efficiency and connectivity was a resounding common thread among the growers we’ve interacted with so far. These growers have replaced the spiral note pad with a smartphone in their pocket.

One grower I talked with spoke of the instant access he has to vast amounts of knowledge just a few swipes away on his iPhone or iPad. Another mused about snapping a photo of a pest with her smartphone and eMailing it to her Extension agent right in the field.

All of these things are helping farmers become more efficient. The next generation of growers are going to use these technologies and they will lead differently. That’s okay because every generation has led differently, taking the wisdom from their mentors, moms and dads, teachers, and others who came before. I am sure there were several young growers who learned a lot about growing peanuts and cotton from the old grower on the bench, even though he was wrong about those darn dot coms.

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