Illustration by Clara Nicoll

Farming life: Honestly, I absolutely have to spend five hours a day on my phone

I have a robust defence for my excessive screen time on the farm 
July 19, 2023

I recently found myself under heavy questioning about my screen time. Turns out that I spend an average of more than five hours a day looking at my phone, according to the phone itself. The charge: how on earth does a farmer like me, supposedly out toiling in the elements, clock so many hours on a digital device?

Constructing a defence for myself, my mind turned to a half-remembered interview I heard years ago. It was some explorer or other, a real Bear Grylls type, and he was asked what his most important piece of kit was. His response—and keep in mind that this was in the dim and distant pre-iPhone days—was his BlackBerry. He said it was the piece of equipment that enabled him to fundraise while training, to communicate with team members and to make the arrangements required to complete his arduous adventure.

So it is for me, I—grandly—like to think. I have good reasons, dear reader, for my surprising relationship with my iPhone. 

First of all, I spend very little time at the computer but have a significant amount of admin to do, such as updating records and filling in forms. Having left the European Union we were supposedly going to be rid of so many forms, but even if we have escaped from some, many others seem to have taken their place. This task could easily be done from my computer at home, but with hard shifts and long hours, my motivation often expires before the close of the working day. I find it easier to snatch any opportunity that I can on the job—while refuelling machinery, waiting on deliveries, or performing light duties—to multitask.

New technology allows the tractor to drive itself in a straight line across our fields. At the touch of a button, I am demoted from driver to conductor, from operator to passenger. During this time, I am aware of my surroundings in the field, but often also perform other duties.

I receive an average of 40 emails per day on my work address

While the tractor drives itself, I can—with the assistance of Siri—make calls to order fertilisers, arrange visits, or even sell produce as I’m on the move.

And given the length of most of our fields, I can also compose tweets. My former colleagues from the days before I returned to the family farm are always amazed when I tell them that farmers are all over Twitter. With no shame whatsoever, I can tell you that more than 50 per cent of the tips and tricks I learn about food production and agriculture come via Twitter.

Social media makes up most of my screen time, but I can at least convince myself that some of this falls under the heading of R&D. Judging by some of the rows that farmers get into on there, it’s certainly not R&R.

The last category to consider is email—I receive an average of 40 emails per day on my work address. There may be invitations to demonstrations or meetings, communication about products and orders, and once again social interaction between farmers. While many people today are trying to preserve their work-life balance, to separate work from their social and home life, farming is such an all-consuming job that it is, I believe, essential for our mental health to maintain social connections during the long passages of otherwise isolated work. I want to be interrupted by more friendly emails! And all this comes from my phone.

With big chunks of my working day spent looking at my phone, my most impressive  piece of  kit isn’t  in my satellite guiding tractor. Instead it’s in my pocket—or more likely in my hand or the dashboard mount.