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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.