In The News

Farming, fishing, hunting and technology

This article appeared in the August 25, 2016 “Meacham Madness” column in the County Journal


As I sat in the Old Feed Store in Cobden Sunday evening and listened to Simon King describe the dramatic changes in agriculture from the beginning of the 20th Century into the 21st, it occurred to me that fishing and hunting have gone through much the same cycle.

The event was “Seeding Change? The Future of Our Farms and Communities,” sponsored by Illinois Humanities. My son, Matt, was involved in planning the program, which was also presented in Greenville and Shelbyville.

King, the director of the Carnegie Mellon University Design Center in Pittsburgh, talked about mechanization, the development of hybrid seeds, the widespread use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, genetitic modification of plants and, most recently, precision agriculture – the application of computers, the internet, satellites, drones, self-driven implements and other high-tech instruments and information to agriculture.

The result, King said, is that fewer and fewer farmers – particularly American farmers – now feed more and more people by farming more and more acres and investing more and more money in materials, equipment and expertise.

However, the concentration, industrialization and commercialization of agriculture has sparked a reaction from people who desire a closer connection to the land and the food they consume. This is expressed in the locavore movement today, which emphasizes small farms on which growers use organic methods and market products for local consumption.

King, fellow speakers Michael Plumer, a consultant on conservation agriculture, and Wayne Sirles, co-owner of Rendleman Orchards near Alto Pass, and members of the audience generally agreed that there is a place and a need for elements of both types of farming.

My favorite outdoor activities, too, have come nearly full-circle. Beginning about the early Sixties, every angler thought he needed a fiberglass bass boat instead of a wooden rowboat and a 100-horespower outboard instead of a pair of oars. The revolution in electronics started with simple flashers that indicated depth. Today, electronics measure water temperature, barometric pressure and clarity, produce images and charts that show every detail below and beside the boat and practically x-ray every fish to show what it had for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Hunters now have shotguns with changeable choke tubes that produce vastly improved shot patterns tailored for various types of game and targets. Firearms companies offer rifles with increased range and accuracy. Ammo makers produce loads for every purpose. Nikon, Bushnell, Leupold and other makers of optics offer telescopic sights that calculate range, uphill angles and downhill slopes, weather conditions and bullet trajectory.

Anglers and hunters alike rely on web sites and GPS units to deliver current conditions and pinpoint coordinates.

And yet, many who pursue game and fish think applying all this technology and information diminishes the human element of their sport. They want the satisfaction of feeling that they, rather than a machine, bagged the deer or landed the bass. In recent years, I’ve written articles about the increasing popularity of kayaks, canoes, flyrods, muzzleloaders, longbows and other back-to-basics gear.

My attempted humor story on this subject, “Henry Johnson and the High-Tech Hunter,” won a best-in-category award from the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. I’ll soon be offering it and other stories in text and audio form on a new web site. Meanwhile, anyone who can’t wait may contact me at