If you’re like most large dairy herd executives, you consider your smartphone an extension of your body. It brings you market alerts every noon, detailed weather reports whenever you need them and calls from your banker. OK, so maybe you could do without that last one…
Smartphone and tablet use has indeed taken off among farmers, according to Successful Farming magazine’s Courtney Yuskis and Eric Marzen. The pair recently delivered a talk on the latest farmer technology usage trends to the Midlands National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) in Lincoln, Neb. But not everyone is convinced that’s a good thing.
According to a survey conducted by the magazine, farmers have surpassed the general public in smartphone usage — 45 percent of farmers compared to 44 percent of the general public. And that number still is rising: In September 2010, 10 percent of farmers used smartphones. In August 2011, that number had increased to 39 percent.
In addition, from using apps to plugging tablets directly into docking stations in tractors, farmers are using tablets increasingly in their day-to-day operation. Marzen reports that 14 percent of the farmers surveyed currently own and use tablets for information gathering, including market and weather information, evaluating products, joining online discussions and capturing day-to-day operation information.
The number of farmers who have adopted high-speed Internet has increased 20 percent to 72 percent from 2009 to 2011, Yuskis says. As a result of farmers’ remote lifestyle, many have leaped directly to mobile services for high-speed Internet. Midlands NAMA members confirmed that they are noticing several of these trends among their farmer client base, adding that livestock producers have adopted mobile high-speed slightly faster than row crop farmers.
But as Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow points out in her forthcoming book, “Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24-7 Habit and Change the Way You Work,” this increased adoption of these tools doesn’t necessarily translate into increased productivity or job satisfaction. In an experiment that focused on mandating time off for consultants for at least one night per week, Perlow noticed that — over time — their work lives improved, and they were largely more productive. In fact, of those who unplugged at least one night a week, 78 percent said that they “feel satisfied” with their jobs, compared to the group of people who ignored the policy, where only 49 percent noted the same sense of satisfaction.
These results call into question whether working faster is better, especially since speed of response is not always necessary and burnout among dairy farming executives remains a terrifying reality.