Friday, January 20, 2017
The New Farmer in the New Agriculture
Toil is no longer king. To a large degree, agricultural success these days is reserved for those who have the time and capacity to figure out which technologies will benefit their farms the most and for those who can implement them in the best way possible.
In a climate-controlled cab, while listening to the Blue Jays game, a farmer can control a machine approximately the size of a small house with a simple joystick. He or she doesn’t need to steer because the machine does that by itself. The farmer has full control over the machine’s thousands of moving parts via a touchscreen monitor.
Most combines in circulation now are capable of threshing hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of crop per day. They are also capable of processing and displaying a phenomenal amount of information. The farmer knows exactly how many bushels per acre his or her combine is processing.
Farming has become a vocation for the detailed, the tech savvy, the geek. From seeding to spraying to harvesting, and all the minute processes in between, farms are relying on machines capable of gathering and processing awe-inspiring amounts of information.
A sprayer that increases dosage in areas of a field that are more disease-prone will increase yield potential, increase profits, and allow that plot of land to generate more food. It’s called variable-rate technology. And it’s only one example of the way farms have evolved into digital playgrounds to grow more food on a finite supply of acres, feeding a hungry market, and offsetting rising land prices.
Companies such as Case IH, John Deere, Caterpillar, and many others have invested millions (if not billions) in developing cutting edge technologies previously used in military applications for the agricultural market.
In many ways it’s a brave new world. And an intimidating one.
Robotics will find their way onto farms sooner than you and I think. Technology is advancing at a pace advantageous to those waiting for what’s new to become affordable.
In 2014, Grainews reported on ag-based technology that involved an advanced drone mapping a farmer’s field for specific weeds then sending that data to a fleet of unmanned tractors that would use it to locate and kill specific weeds on the field.
When such technologies become accessible to farmers like, say, me, the farmer will be nearly unrecognizable from a generation ago. And while I’m loath to call technological advancements progress without looking at them critically, I do believe that machinery allowing us to be more precise and effective in our use of chemicals is a good thing.
In August 2016, Case IH unveiled an unmanned, autonomous, high-horsepower tractor, a first for the industry. Previous attempts at robotic tractors were on smaller machines. The company has expressed its desire to market this technology to farmers.
Right now, on my farm, the tractors we use the most steer themselves. Our combine is a constant learning curve. And what we have is old. The return on investment for a farm this size must be high and nearly immediate for us to consider purchasing the kinds of technology the ag industry would consider new.
What is accessible and has my undivided attention is the use of drones for basic agronomy. While there are drones available for mapping and some even have the capacity to spray weeds themselves, my interest in them is much more pedestrian: field scouting.
To fly a video drone over areas I can’t access via truck, tractor or atv could be a valuable exercise.
Last spring, gophers ate a few acres of my then newly planted soybeans. This problem was new to me. I did what I could to mitigate the damage once an agronomist helped me determine what the problem was (it bewildered a lot of people), but the result was a loss of about two acres, which, at last year’s yields and prices, equaled a loss of more than $1,000.
In the southwest corner of the field, in an area I couldn’t get to nor see, gophers kept eating, a problem I only took stock of once combining.
Had I scouted that field and that area with an entry-level drone capable of taking video or stills, it would have paid for itself.
Toil is still very much a part of any successful farm, but in many ways it’s taking a back seat to buttons, switches, programs, and monitors. This means increased precision and less waste. And it means increased food production on a finite amount of land.
Next time you see a farmer, thank them, then assume they are handling technologies that put most things in your house to shame.
This appeared in the Financial Post in the Agriculture section on 9 January 2017 written by Torban Dyck. The link is here - http://business.financialpost.com/news/agriculture/todays-farmer-would-put-an-urban-tech-geek-to-shame?platform=hootsuite
It is a summary of the technology now appearing in modern agriculture on the farm, and together with some pretty smart genetic progress occurring and not all GM either, it is the future of agriculture NOW. When you combine these trends with increasing attention directed towards food waste and similar post harvest actions, a vision of agriculture actually feeding the world with less land of lower quality may not be so far fetched. When you also add the stuff being done with inside hydroponics and automated and robotic vegetable production it sure adds to technology in agriculture and horticulture.
And this technology is hopefully also encouraging some of the smart minds around the youth of today to consider agricultural science as a career. It is not such a bad choice - plenty of science and technology and a chance to be outdoors at least some of the time!