Five years ago, no one thought farmers would be snapping photos of tractors and plant diseases with a digital camera, let alone sending them over the Internet. Ten years ago, the idea of a farmer with a cell phone seemed far-fetched.

Now some farmers and their equipment dealers are happily sending one another digital photos via e-mail, and cell phones have replaced the fencing pliers as the most important accessory on a farmer’s belt. A new convergence of wireless phones and digital cameras was only a matter of time.

The latest generation of mobile phones now combines color digital photography, view screens and Internet access. These camera phones let you take a photo and send it to another phone, or to the Internet.

The Sanyo SCP-5300 PicturePhone is one of many sure to come. The $400 device has a built-in camera, flash, digital zoom, Web access and instantly available thumbnail images. The Samsung SPH-A500 is another phone in this category, but its camera is a peripheral device that needs to be plugged in. It costs a bit less at $300.

Watch for prices to drop as more phones like these hit the market. If you can’t wait, watch for rebate programs from electronics stores such as Circuit City and Best Buy. These can knock $100 or more off the price.

Both Sanyo and Samsung phones are useful anywhere that has coverage on the Nationwide PCS network. Right now, that network still has significant gaps in farm country. But it continues to ramp up, and it’s likely you already have coverage if you are near a city or an interstate highway. To send photos, you’ll need the PCS Vision service plan, which starts at $10/month on top of your voice plan. For more information, visit www.sanyowireless.com, www.samsungusa.com or www.sprintpcs.com.