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Posts Tagged With: technology

Picture A Modern Farmer

The AgWired team has been busy at the Farm Progress Show, so I’ve been reading, writing, and posting lots of information about everything new in agriculture.  I’ve been wading through information about ag app developers, tweeting John Deere’s newest tractor capabilities, and watching drones take flight.  Which got me thinking.

Despite being eighty-five years old, American Gothic is too often the picture that comes to mind when you mention “farmer.”

Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic_-_Google_Art_Project

It would be harder to find something farther from the truth.  In fact, today’s farmers use as much technology as anyone in Silicon Valley.  Let me try to paint that picture for you.

We call it “precision farming.”  First, you might hire a company to come to your field and mark it off in a grid.  A bit of soil is taken from every square on the grid, carefully recorded and tracked.  These soil samples are then sent to a science lab and tested.

A picture of today's modern farmer

It’s then possible to take the maps with those results and upload them to a device in your tractor.  The right kind of equipment can read those maps as the tractor drives through the field and make changes in the amount of fertilizer placed in each grid square so you put on exactly what is needed.  The same idea can happen as you’re planting– putting more seeds in good soil and fewer on thinner ground.

GPS and auto-steer mean the tractor can drive along its path by satellite, with less than one inch of error along the way.  GPS also lets the planter know where it’s been and each row can shut off as the equipment drives over a spot that has already been planted.  Expect the same for the machine that sprays crop protection products over the field.  Automatic shut-off means no waste, no excess.

planter

As the plants grow, farmers can now keep a watchful eye on disease and pests that might ruin a crop with the use of an Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAV) or drone.  Or a livestock farmer may use a drone to check cattle grazing on large acreages.

drone

Monitors right in the field can let a farmer know when an irrigation system needs to be turned on, most likely through an alert on his phone.  The farmer can often turn the water on from his phone too.  Fruit and tree growers have access to the same smartphone technology to alert for frost, and animal farmers can check their barns while sitting at a soccer game.

And then there’s harvest.  Combines create maps as they move across the field, recording the yield as it goes along.  These maps can be overlaid with spring planting maps for even more information.  All of that may be tracked with another app from a smartphone.

Modern agriculture is a long way from pitchforks and overalls.

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Categories: Farming, Technology | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Do We Need GMOs?

Yesterday I listened to an interview of a farmer in Indiana who currently grows non-GMO soybeans on his farm because consumers are willing to pay more for this premium product.  Next year he doesn’t plan to grow them anymore.

Why?  What’s wrong with regular ol’ beans and why would a farmer choose GMOs, even if the others pay better?

Well, I can answer that will a little more from my tour of Monsanto.  If you missed it, be sure to catch the first two posts, What is A GMO? and Can You Eat Like Your Ancestors!  If you’re up to date, please continue. 🙂

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

This particular farmer (as do all farmers) was having trouble with weeds in his fields.  Weeds are a problem because they use resources, like nutrients from the soil, water, and sunlight you wanted for your crop.  The competition can cause crops to produce less food.

Famers of the past, and those that grow non-GMO products, used a combination of products to kill the weeds, often applying them two or three times to kill those weeds.  That costs in time, money, and harm to the environment.

GMOs were created so farmers could spray a product one time and kill weeds more efficiently.  Scientists had the idea to make a spray that interferes with a protein in photosynthesis.  Then they created a seed that was protected from the spray.  Dead weeds, less chemical.  All around win.

Another problem solved by GMOs is the damage from pests.

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

This works a little like a vaccination.  Scientists take DNA that protects from certain insects and put it into the seed, “turning it on” like we discussed in Monday’s post in the roots or leaves, and keeping safe from bugs.  In the above photo three healthy soybean plants were infected with disgusting caterpillar things (scientific term) on June 11th.  (And moved into that case on the 16th, if you’re wondering about the bottom date.)  I took this picture on June 18th.  You can see the damage done in just seven days.

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

I wish I’d gotten clearer pictures of the labels under each plant so I could show you better, but I’m sure you can guess the nice looking plant on the bottom right is the GMO designed to taste nasty to the pests.  Our guide said the caterpillars figure it out and after a quick bite, never go near the GMO plant again.

It works with corn as well:

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

Hopefully you can read those signs a little better.

In addition to killing pests and weeds so the plants can grow and produce well, GMOs also keep those two little problems out of the combine and away from the food that is trucked into town.  Since a combine can’t tell the difference between Johnson grass and corn, anything growing in the field gets pulled into the equipment– even nasty caterpillars.

So the farmer I heard interviewed was going back to GMOs.  It means less spraying for weeds, less damage to plants, less loss of income, and better for the everyone.

Categories: Food, Science | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Can You Eat Like Your Ancestors?

eating like your ancestors

I’m excited to see you’re back for more of my tour of Monsanto this week! If you missed the first installment you might want to check it out before going any farther. You will also have to promise to over look typos and ridiculous sentences; I’ve been transcribing interviews for the blog that pays! 🙂

Hopefully you have an understanding of GMOs; let’s look at another term– GM.  You’ll see/hear people using the acronym, partly because two letters are easier, partly because we’re tired of the GMO backlash, and partly because it is trendy and we must keep up!  “Genetically modified” is sometimes used to show the difference between a seed whose genetic information is altered in a lab (GMO) and a seed whose genetic information has been altered by selective breeding, but in the U.S. you may correctly use it for both. Since plants no longer look like their ancestors, you can scientifically say that all plants are “GM.”

corn evolution3

Here’s a poster from a greenhouse at Monsanto.  It shows what the ancestor of modern corn looked like.  Teosinte grain (red circle) resembles a stalk a wheat more than an ear of corn.  We don’t have a name or university to credit with the discovery, but they did find plants with fewer stalks used their energy to grow bigger grains and eventually the corn plant changed. corn collage

These are also from the Monsanto greenhouse.  The one on the left is teosinte, on the right -corn.

corn ansestor2

Genetic engineering today is the same- we’re just better and faster at it.  On our tour we saw pictures of college interns trudging through corn fields with a (highly scientific) hole punch.  The interns punched holes in the plant’s leaf tagged the plant.  The punched samples were analyzed to see which genetic traits the plant carried.  Scientists chose the plants with the best combination of traits to continue growing; the interns went back to the fields and pulled up the other 90%.  The remaining 10% were grown to be parents of a variety of seed that was more drought tolerant, or had stronger stalks, or yielded better etc..

A look inside Monsanto to see what a GMO really is

Then somebody had a brilliant idea.  Since our DNA is present in all our cells, including the seed, the plant didn’t have to grow to torture students in a hot field. A piece of the seed could give all the same information.  As long as the chip doesn’t come from the part of the seed that is the embryo, the plant will grow, making more seeds of its own.

A look inside Monsanto to see what a GMO really is

And since chipping seeds makes your hand cramp, somebody else thought up this contraption. If you take a soybean seed and shake it up, it will always settle with its black line (the embryo) parallel to the ground.  If you slice along the top or bottom, the seed will still grow.  There’s another machine for corn that takes a picture of the seed and a little robotic arm adjusts accordingly.  Seed chipping took two years off the time it used to take to create a variety with  a new trait.  So brilliant!

Plants created with this method are “genetically modified” without being GMO.  If the seeds are grown according to USDA guidelines the food they produce may even be “organic.”

So none of the food you eat is Paleo.  Those foods don’t even exist anymore.

And I bet early man would think we’re crazy for even wanting it.

Categories: Science | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

What You Don’t Know About Farmers

If a picture is worth a thousand words then the message a film can convey is simply amazing.  Which is why you need to see this movie.  You might be amazed what you don’t know about farmers.

FARMLAND

FARMLAND Teaser Trailer 2014 from Farmland on Vimeo.

It’s available for purchase at Wal-Mart tomorrow, March 3, 2015.  You can also get it from Netflix on DVD (not streaming) or upload from iTunes, youTube, Amazon, and several other stores.

This is how food is grown in America.  FARMLAND documentary

I highly recommend it.

The documentary follows the stories of six young farmers and ranchers of all shapes and sizes.  There’s the “One Woman Farmer” growing produce in the northeast, an organic farmer handling everything from seeds to bar codes in the southwest, a poultry producer, a cattle rancher, hog farmer, and a row crop guy.  And their stories are real.

Really, really, real.

These are the problems we face.  These are the decisions we make.  This is what our life looks like.

This is how food is grown in America.

That’s not something you don’t want to know about.

Categories: Animals, Family, Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Happens in ALOT

Gets published on the Internet!  Sorry guys!  Usually the happenings at the meetings of this hand-picked, higher education class are for the privileged members only, but when you invite a blogger to talk about blogging, well, you have now become public information! 🙂

ALOT (pronounced with a long A, not like the phrase “a lot.”) stands for Agricultural Leaders of Tomorrow, and is a two-year class designed to introduce members to a wide variety of ag related topics, businesses, and ideas.  Brian was selected for this latest class and has been across the state visiting an amazing variety of people and places, listening and learning about more topics than I ever dreamed our state could boast.

The group has met Presidents, CEOs, and leaders of some really amazing organizations, so I didn’t know if I should be honored or intimated when the coordinator of the program called Brian and wanted the group to visit Marshall Farms!

ALOT group visits Marshall Farms

The 25 members of the group visited Marshall Farms, providing some incentive to finish multiple projects on this shed!

Brian gave a talking-tour of the farm (since it was 27 degrees when we started– what happened to spring?!), sharing lots of information about the technology we use.  Being in the shed meant we could get a good look at the sprayer and planter.

ALOT visits Marshall Farms

Since members hail from across the state Brian shared practices used in our area to deal with our specific soil and land types.

Then Dennis, Brian’s dad and “Grandpa” here on the blog, went into some detail about the soil conservation practices we follow.  Dennis has been an early adaptor of conservation for the last 35 years he has been in business as a farmer and he is still trying new ideas.  The most recent practice has been the addition of cover crops (read about that here), including some brand new cover crop mixtures we’ve just tried for the first time.

ALOT class visits Marshall Farms

If you’ve ever wondered what a farm “nerd” sounds like you should have heard the conversation between Dennis and the class as they discussed the chemical make-up of soil-LOL!

Then those poor class members had to listen to me tell about my experiences blogging and how I try to share agriculture with those interested in where their food comes from.

ALOT visits Marshall Farms

Trivia, I’ve been blogging at Daddy’s Tractor for two years, but before that I blogged at myfamilyfarm.blogspot.com.

The best part was the box of chocolates ALOT gives to each of their presenters.  So as far as I’m concerned ALOT is welcomed back anytime!  As long as you’re okay with being published on the Internet that is!!

Categories: Technology | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brian Testifies to Congress

Not all farm work happens in the field.  On Tuesday Brian did some critical chores, not in the shop, but in Congress.

Thank a Farmer, Brian testifies before Congress on behalf of Farmers and small business owners.

Thank you to American Farm Bureau for the photos!

He presented information to the House Small Business Committee about new technologies in farming; mostly about the data we now create.  Brian (usually known on this blog as Daddy!) explained how we use GPS and programs like Field View on our tractors, combine, and sprayer.  Each of those pieces of equipment records the location and what was planted, harvested, or applied in the field.  As a business owner we can then pull all of that data together and get a very detailed look at what’s going on with our farm.  We can see if a certain brand of seed grew better than other brands.  We can tell where more fertilizer might be needed.  We can watch for patterns of problems over the course of years.

That’s pretty cool technology, and its something our lawmakers know little about.

But who cares if they know about it, you ask?

Well, Congress tends to like nothing better than to create rules and regulations.  Job security and all.  Naturally no one person can be an expert on everything the United States Congress does, so “expert witnesses, ” like Brian, bring real-life information and personal stories to our elected officials.

Thank a Farmer, Brian testifies before Congress on behalf of Farmers and small business owners.

Brian visited with some of our elected officials while he was in DC.

Did you know some farmers are using drones to check their fields during the growing season to watch for pests that can damage entire fields?  Some people want to regulate these drones the same way we regulate planes.  The cost of this kind of equipment is already high; adding that kind of regulation would make the technology pretty much unusable.  You’d spend more time on paper work than the drone would save you.  You might as well check the field yourself.

All the data I mentioned before is also of legal concern to farmers.  Brian can pull information from the cloud right from the seat of his combine, but who else can see his data?  Can the company that made the program sell that data?  Can the government take it?  Could the Chicago Board of Trade have access to exactly how much corn is being harvested in the US right now?  Can seed companies look at the yield of their seeds and their competitors?

Thank a Farmer, Brian testifies before Congress on behalf of Farmers and small business owners.

Thanks to Missouri Farm Bureau’s press release, the story hit the papers about the time Brian’s plane touched down in Kansas City!

Both of these issues, along with many others, may be visited by Congress.  Some issues we hope they’ll stay away from, allowing owners to control their own small businesses.  On other issues we hope they will choose to help instead of hinder America’s farmers.

So in its own way, this work is as important as any we do here on the farm.

Categories: Science | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The one and only, Cheerios

Its only 8:00 AM and I’ve already fought two battles today.  The first I fought with extension cords, bales of straw, and more Carhartt than any person not employed by the company should decently wear at any one time.  The second I’m fighting with a laptop, cell phone, and Instagram account.  It is the battle of public opinion.

Some days you win.  Some days you loose.

IMHO, the one and only Cheerios.

We buy the bulk “2 Box” kind from Sam’s Club.

Modern agriculture recently lost a battle with General Mills, the company behind the one and only, Cheerios.  On January 2nd the company announced we will be seeing new cereal boxes in our grocery story aisles stating that the original Cheerios are now GMO free. This frustrates me on several levels.

First because, as General Mills points out, there are no GMO oats.  The switch involves a small amount of corn starch used in the cooking process and the gram per serving of sugar.  Its a relatively small change on their part that will generate a massive amount of negative opinion on ours.  Definitely frustrating.

Secondly, General Mills themselves states over and over that GMOs are safe.  They link to factsaboutgmos.org, The World Health Organization, The European Food Safety Authority, and the USDA.  But they won’t stand behind this science they apparently believe in.

Third, this Q&A statement from Cheerios mentions “investments” in the new process– places to store the corn starch and sugar etc., and I can’ help but infer that General Mills didn’t do any of this out of the goodness of their hearts, but rather to make a profit.  This leads me to believe that I, as the consumer, will be paying for the “investment” each time I load up my cart at Sam’s Club.  Perhaps my family budget can afford this, but surely you will allow me to stretch my imagination and guess that others cannot.

And this is, perhaps, my greatest frustration.  This is such a first world problem.

IMHO, the one and only Cheerios.

I let my kids pour honey on the original type. Its less sugar than Honey Nut and I used to feel good about letting them eat it.

Only people will full stomachs can be picky about what they put into them.

Mind you, I’m grateful I can be this choosy myself.  I want my kids to have good nutrition, safe food, even adventurous diets.  But what about the mom who just wants her kid to have enough to eat.  Or the mom who wants her kid to have anything to eat.  Because to me, that’s what GMOs are about.  Once they’ve been proven safe, and I’ve done my research and feel they are (Read here and here), GMOs are the ONLY route I can see that leads to full stomachs for a population of some 9 billion people.  Its safe.  Its affordable.  And its possible.  The technology of our past won’t get us there.

IMHO, the one and only Cheerios.

Brett will pick Cheerios over pancakes some days. Whose crazy kid does that?!

So will I keep buying Cheerios?  Dunno.  But I may look around at some different brands and see what my family will eat, because today I feel that General Mills isn’t supporting me and my farm.  They aren’t supporting ag’s efforts to feed the world.  And somehow I think that could have been profitable for them too.

We lost this battle.  The world can’t afford for us to loose the war.

Categories: Food, Technology | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

More to Fall than Harvest

Fall is, of course, one of the busiest seasons on the farm.  But harvesting crops isn’t the only thing that keeps us busy as the temperatures drop.  Fall is also the time to prepare the fields for spring planting; tillage work, repairing terraces, and especially building up the nutrients in the fields.

There's more to fall than harvest!  {DaddysTractor.com}

Plants naturally soak up the nutrients in the soil to help them grow, leaving fewer nutrients for next year’s crops.  Throughout history farmers have dealt with this in various ways.  The Egyptians had the Nile, which over flowed its banks, leaving new silt to plant in each season.  In the Bible farmers were given instruction to let the field sit empty once every seven years.  Today’s farmers have the resources and knowledge to replace nutrients like you see in the pictures here.

There's more to fall than harvest!  {DaddysTractor.com}

This is Daddy, unloading lime with his dump truck.  Lime changes the pH of the soil, helping the plants maximize the fertilizer.  Not only does this create good crops, it also important for sustainability.  That’s a buzz word we hear a lot, but around here it means we improve the land so someday it will provide for our son’s family, and his son’s too.

There's more to fall than harvest!  {DaddysTractor.com}

After Daddy made his lime pile the local Co-op came out with a team to spread the lime across the fields.  First they brought out this small loader which was used to pick up the lime from the pile and dump it into the compartment on this conveyor belt.

There's more to fall than harvest!  {DaddysTractor.com}

Then the belt picks up the lime and dumps it into the bed of the spreader truck.

There's more to fall than harvest!  {DaddysTractor.com}

When the truck is full it heads to the field to spread the lime from a spinner at the back.

There's more to fall than harvest!  {DaddysTractor.com}

The lime is soft, like powder, and floats behind the truck.

There's more to fall than harvest!  {DaddysTractor.com}

Just one of the jobs keeping us busy this fall!

Categories: Science | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Did You Know? Fueling a Combine

There are several reason you won’t see this at your local Casey’s.  Um, very often.

Fueling the combine {DaddysTractor.com}

Obviously, most gas stations have a shelter over the pumps that would seriously get in the way of a piece of equipment this size.  And gas stations tend to be either in towns or along highways and not convenient to slow moving vehicles in fields in remote locations.

So how do you fuel all that harvest equipment?

With your own fuel tank.

Fueling the combine {DaddysTractor.com}

Our farm has those giant fuel barrels filed with dyed fuel (for farm vehicles only), but they stay at the farm’s home base.  This trailer is a newly-traded addition to Daddy’s collection which allows him to haul fuel right to the combine.

So much easier than pulling up to the pump at Quick Trip!!

This trailer has two pumps, just like the ones you’d use to fuel your car– except at little bigger. 😉  They wind up on a hose reel, which is what you see in the photo above.

Fueling the combine {DaddysTractor.com}

The tanks are in the rear of the combine and you have to pull the hoses up the ladder to reach them.  And while some pieces of farm equipment (semis) actually have two diesel tanks, that’s not why you see two hoses in these pictures.

The second, smaller, hose actually fills the combine with something called DEF.  This fluid is the secret to making our red equipment environmentally green. 

(If you’re interested in learning how this combine is reducing emissions into the air, try this previous post.) 

{DaddysTractor.com}

So now you know.  This is why you won’t see tractors or combines in line at the local Conoco.  Very often…

Categories: Science, Technology | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Taking Care of the Land, Another Approach

These pictures aren’t of our fields.  You’ve seen photos of Daddy and Anna repairing soil on terraces.  I’ve shared our rye grass project.  But this isn’t something we do on our farm; these pics are of a neighbor’s field.

Another way farmers are taking care of the land.  {DaddysTractor.com}

You likely know that terraces are mounds of dirt shaped like the hill designed to stop soil from washing down a field and into streams.  You can see in the photographs how this farmer is actually growing hay in strips where the terraces are– right in the middle of his corn field!

Another way farmers are taking care of the land.  {DaddysTractor.com}

The hay is actually bromegrass, which means our friend had to buy the seed and plant it where he wanted it to grow.  Bromegrass grows well in drought–making this farmer look smart at the moment!  It also has a strong root system that makes it a good choice to hold the soil in place for erosion control.

Another way farmers are taking care of the land.  {DaddysTractor.com}

By doing this, the farmer gets hay for his cattle to eat in the winter and protects the land at the same time!

Categories: Science, Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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