Those Times When Eyes Glaze Over: Tractor Circuitry Meets the Ontario Cash Price Index

OCPIToday I presented my 2011 Commodity Outlook to the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario.  Making projections into 2011 is surely a leap of faith at the best of times.  I told the Innovative Farmers that you never know as I laid what I thought were the important market factors leading into 2011.  I brought my idea of an Ontario Cash Price Index up and I could see eyes glaze over.  I don’t think it was the fact that the farmers disagreed with flat pricing for Ontario grains but when you’re suggesting a total attitude adjustment to the pricing of Ontario grain, it’s going to take a while.

We’ll see what happens. The USDA report is on the docket for tomorrow as I write this.  Maybe after tomorrow’s report an Ontario cash price index might get a little greater traction.  Or, maybe those eyes might glaze over a little quicker.

I have seen it seemingly 1 million times, eyes glazing over.  In fact I’m sure some of those times they were my eyes.  It happens when a subject becomes so complicated or so frustrating that people no longer listen.  They in effect become numb to the pain of the subject at hand.

As a writer and speaker it is always my passion to bring some understanding to those glazed over eyes.  I often hear from readers who appreciate some attempt by myself to bring some semblance of sanity to a subject, which doesn’t get a lot of play in the agricultural media.  The Ontario cash price index might be one of those things.  I also increasingly find comments about the complexity of our modern farm equipment another.  Just today, I heard from more than a few people commenting on my views of too much computer circuitry embedded in new tractors.

My position on that has always been clear.  Put computerized circuitry in an environment, which is dirty, grimy, moisture laden, vibrating with long periods of inactivity and what do you get?  In my mind you get components that will not last the test of time and in fact can act themselves out.  I have heard related stories from readers who have backed this up.

One farmer wrote me a note from Minnesota.  He said that he was driving his tractor through a busy Minnesota intersection one spring day and his brand-new tractor stopped dead in the middle of the intersection.  There was no way he could get the tractor to start to move it out of the way.  It was dead. They finally had to pull it to the side of the road with chain.  There was a software problem.

I’ve had my own issues.  I bought a new tractor four years ago and ever since that day the computer software would set off a beeper telling me to call the dealer.  After four years of calling the dealer who along with the company had no answer for how to fix it, I no longer own the tractor.  The only way I could fix the problem was by getting rid of the tractor.  I believe the problem was in the firmware embedded within the computer module on top of the engine.  No one ever proved me wrong. Of course, nobody knew what to do!

I wish I had five dollars very time that farmers told me he has no idea what that computer screen means inside the cab of his combine or tractor.  Or I wish I had the five dollars for the times they told me they didn’t need all that stuff.  The point is agricultural eyes glaze over when they see their farming environment cluttered up with high-tech computer circuitry that is good for everybody else but them.

Farmers accept much of this gadgetry passively.  For instance how can you criticize it when it’s all so dazzling brand-new?  At the same time I thought it was interesting when I made the suggestion today about the Ontario cash price index to the Innovative Farmers of Ontario.  Sure, many eyes glazed over, it’s hard to try to get your mind around something which all your life you’ve been taught won’t work.  Essentially I was suggesting bringing some simplicity back into the way we price Ontario grain minus the distortion caused by the noncommercial speculative trade.  It is very close to the same way we do it now, just much simpler and easier for everybody to understand.

Somebody might pipe up and say, Phil, on your new tractor computer monitor you’ll be able to access the Ontario Cash Price Index for grains in real time.  Now maybe that is something that would work.  LOL.  Sometimes in those eyes glaze over moments, it is really just the embryo of innovation incubating.  The important thing is to keep an open mind.  Some ideas like the Ontario Cash Price Index and simplicity in our farm machinery are worth considering.