Twenty-First Century Ag

Not for the first time in his short life, Led Pappin wondered if he squandered away his youth. His education. The drudgery of his profession, one basically cast upon him at birth, again, had his mind wandering off on other pursuits.

His earliest memories were of becoming a pilot. The military was going to be his path to that career. However, the constant conflicts the US found itself engaged in steered him clear of that course. In high school he entertained the idea of becoming an artist, but his father reminded him that his education was only paid for if he followed the family business. The only way he could afford to pay his own way was through the military, and that circled around to his fear of certain death.

While in college, his first girlfriend almost had him lured into a life of political activism. But the fact that she wanted him to be a vegan, and his family farm was in the beef industry, well, that would have made it hard during the holidays. Besides, he realized a life without bacon wasn’t something he was ready to embrace. That, and she wasn’t that great between the sheets. Ultimately, she ran off with some political science major and Led bid her good riddance as he headed off to the golden arches on his one wheeled hoverboard.

Instead, he kept to his studies. Agricultural Management in the twenty-first century. The classes were interesting, but the summer’s home was not.

Growing up Led loved to hear his great grandfather tell stories of his summers on the farm. Led’s grandfather was a city boy who eventually became a pilot flying MD-11’s for a cargo carrier. But as a boy, he spent most every summer on the farm. He would entertain Led for hours with stories of dodging cow pies, pulling massive rocks from the fields with the old tractor. Cutting wheat in the open cab swather. How his brother jumped off that old faded red machine, covered in golden wheat dust, cussing up a storm. Every time his grandfather recounted that story, he would pause, a glint of ire in his eye, “Only my brother could get away with swearing like that.”

His grandfather and cousins would jump from the hay loft onto a flatbed trailer stacked with hay parked below. Fetch eggs from the chicken coop, hands pocked with red marks left by hens as they defended their sterile eggs. Ignoring his grandmother’s admonishment about going into the bullpen, then running from it terrified, hoping the bull wouldn’t catch them before reaching the fence.

His grandfather’s stories of farming were about being out in the sun. Smelling the earth, the cow shit, the freshly cut wheat. Being tossed off the back of a pony. Getting dirty and sweaty. Earning cuts, bruises, and sprains. Working for a living.

Led leans back in the ergonomic office chair to reflect on his job now. How his family returned to farming after a two-generation absence. His mother was a second cousin to the last remaining farm family on her side. The owner of the farm had no children, and the latest pandemic wiped out many of her heirs. Led’s mom was about all there was left. After she married Led’s father, the old woman called Led’s parents to the farm and asked if they would work the farm if she passed it on to them upon her death.

Led’s father didn’t answer right away, instead he did his research. Delved into all he could find about farming in the middle of the 21st century. He then spent some time on the farm. After a year of careful consideration, and with his wife’s blessing, he said he would. The old matron passed away a few months later.

The holographic displays chirruped an alert pulling Led into the present. The geo-tracker for the dairy cows showed a few had wandered too far from the rest of the heard. In Led’s great grandfather days, they would have jumped into the ATV, or the old step side pickup truck, and “fetched after the damn things.”

“Not in this day and age,” Led mumbled to himself.

He swiped the display that hovered to the right side of the display console twice to the left, searching for the drone screen. With a tap on one of the drones available for herding cattle, he activated it. Another tap on the three wonderers told the drones what the target was. A final tap on the herd’s main body told them where they should be.

He watched the drone’s video feed for a few minutes, more for something to do, than to make sure it did its job.

“The tech in this place never fails,” Led grumbled.

And that is the problem with modern farming, Led thought. Sure, it was the epitome of environmentally sound. Efficiency was through the roof. The ability to store grains until prices guaranteed profit was easy, efficient, carefree. The income he earned as a member of the family farm allowed him to do almost anything he wanted in his free time.

“But it is boring!”

He scanned the holographic display before him. To his left, a roboplanter hovered effortlessly over the field, poking corn into the untilled soil. Its battery powered plant keeping it a precise distance off the soil. No fans, no emissions, no waste. Centered on the display table, just a smidge above eye level was the ag report. A pair of talking heads discussing ag business while the price of commodities scrolled along the bottom of the screen. Below that, a display that fed him social media outlets, email, and web browser tabs.

To his right were the screens that controlled the various robots that farmed the land. The roboplanter, the drones, weed and pest robots, and in the fall, the planter. The lower screen showed the condition of the various silos. Moisture content, pest tracking, and the age of the current grain stored. Occasionally this screen afforded some excitement in the long days of screen watching. Sometimes, a mouse, field rat, or rabbit, would find a way into the silo. Before it could nibble more than a few kernels of grain, a robotic hunter took care of them. Quick and mostly humane. Its remains flown out to the woods by yet another autonomous drone for the scavengers to take care of.

“Kind of like a video game, without the tendonitis,” Led comments. “Yup, this is twenty-first century agriculture.”

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