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December 27, 2017

Behind the Scenes at Mockingbird Hill Farms .

Behind the Scenes at Mockingbird Hill Farms


Jilane Rodgers Petrie

At Mockingbird Hill Farms in Rochester, Kentucky, morning mist weaves through the rows of sweet corn and settles low atop the acres of soybean plants, reflecting a sunrise that saturates the sky with a burst of deep red.

I arrived here earlier this year thanks to a tip by Bryan Franklin of Bluegrass Cellular, eager to capture the story of how wireless is enabling a fourth-generation farmer to keep pace in an ever-changing world. Beneath a towering grain silo, we took in the scenery and waited to meet the owner of Mockingbird Hill Farms, Shane Wells.

Shane and his daughters, Mattie, 15, and Lydia, 13, get up at 5:30 a.m. to pick sweet corn, filling buckets to the brim before sitting to shuck and silk it. The girls put in 7 or 8 hours each day in the summer, saving the profits for a family trip to Disney World.

The idyllic scene is still a 21st century one. The girls use their smartphones to send behind-the-scenes Snapchats of their dad’s on-camera interviews. They also use mobile apps to study for exams. And both girls prefer texts to calls when updating their mom and dad on their schedules.

This season, Shane has about 1,500 acres of row crops, and his 4G LTE service means manage his crops no matter where he is on the farm.

I heard story after story about how advancements in rural wireless has been “a godsend” not just for the farm, but also the Wells family and the Rochester community.

Shane told me that once in an exceptionally dry harvest season, a bearing went out on a corn header, sending sparks and setting the field on fire. He used his cellphone to call the fire department, got assistance quickly and minimized the losses. A few years prior, and he fears there would have been a more tragic result.

When we were on the farm filming, Shane got an automated alert on his phone that Southern Rust – a crop stunting fungus – was fast approaching. He called Drake’s Farm Service for help, and a crop agronomist arrived, 4G-connected iPad in hand, to analyze the situation. She recommended treating the crop and detailed maps of Shane’s farm were sent to a helicopter pilot’s wireless device. Within hours, the preventative treatment was precisely applied, saving the crops from the blight’s worst.

Shane says that his grandad’s rule was to always leave a farm better than you found it, so there’s something there for the next generation.

I notice Mattie’s spelling bee trophies displayed in the family living room and Shane and his wife Felicia recount Lydia’s successes at her cross country and track races. The girls have a wide range of talents, and Shane insists that the decision to farm is theirs alone. He wants them to pursue their passions, whatever they may be. But he tells me that he’s proud that by embracing wireless technology, he’s ensuring they will have the choice to be the next generation on Mockingbird Hill Farm.

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