I'm coming to this from the technical side, but there are many "real" independent farmers moving in a similar direction from the other end. This weekend, I headed out to Wellscroft Farm, a working farm with some spectacular views that also runs a business selling fencing supplies. In addition to its main focus on sheep and Border Collie breeding, the farm has pigs, goats, cattle, chickens, and hay fields, it has a large barn filled with fencing of every conceivable type. The barn is quite old but sturdy, and in an equally rustic connected building, five Dell workstations with flat-screen monitors sit, joined by a simple LAN, and connected to the Internet via what appears to be a microwave link to a distant building equipped with broadband. They sell online via their own Web site, and are surprisingly adept at leveraging the Internet in their business. Suffice it to say, I was impressed. I also bought several sections of electrified fencing, grounding rods, and other assorted parts.
From the farmers' point of view, properly using the Internet and technology is a means to grow their business -- it's a tool like a tractor or a York rake. Their apparent full-scale adoption of that technology is somewhat surprising. From my point of view, working in the fields and herding livestock is a way to reconnect with the tangible world, unlike my normal routine of working with SQL queries and herding bits. It's also equally surprising to my high-tech friends, many of whom think I may have lost my mind. However, I can say with certainty that homegrown eggs are mighty tasty.
I have some plans to run solar-powered Wi-Fi cameras out in the fields, perhaps even integrate a fence warning system that will send me an e-mail if the electric fence goes down, and temperature probes that will do the same if temps go out of range. I don't believe that SNMP-enabled solar fence energizers are readily available, so I might have to make those myself. I'm sure that large-scale agribusiness has all manner of automated monitoring and telemetry infrastructures, but I don't believe it's really trickled down to small-scale operations yet.
So far, my forays into farming have proven cathartic. I wonder if I'll still feel that way when I head out to feed the pigs in February with temperatures hovering around -10 degrees Fahrenheit.