Technology and farming are two words that probably just don’t go together for many people, but you might be surprised to learn that farmers are utilizing increasingly technological systems on the farm and realizing huge benefits to their productivity, their soil and water health, and their sustainability on the farm.

These are the top three technologies that I believe have redefined farming.  Bet you didn’t know that farmers today are spending a lot of their time sitting behind a computer too!

1. Guidance Systems

Most tractors in the field today have guidance systems installed that map the field and direct the tractor over the field in such a way that every inch is covered, yet there are no overlaps.  Farmers used to use markers or just their skill level from having farmed for years to figure this stuff out – but now the guidance system makes sure that every inch of their field is perfect.

GPS system

What this does for a farmer is minimize inputs for his farm.  He buys less diesel because without overlap, he minimizes trips over the field.  She buys less seed because seeds are planted perfectly straight without overlap with other rows.  He buys less fertilizer because the GPS system guides him to exactly where the fertilizer needs to be applied instead of applying it over the entire field.

Guidance systems – often working in tandem with other technologies – have reduced inputs and maximized yield.

2. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

The extent of some damage from a heavy rain as seen from a drone - photo courtesy  Flying the Farm
The extent of some damage from a heavy rain as seen from a drone – photo credit Flying the Farm

These amazing little drones with a camera attached have made it possible for farmers to see into their fields, even when the crops are so tall that the view is blocked from the edge.  They allow for the farmer to crop scout – she can see if an area of the field is too wet, too dry, has additional disease or insect pressure, or is being taken over by weeds.  With some awareness of how each section of the field looks, the farmer can then visit those poorly producing areas in person and rectify any problems she might see.

What this does is make every spot in the field a highly producing region and allows the farmer to tailor his treatment of those spots instead of blanket treating the entire field.  Awareness of problem areas is a powerful thing.

3. Smart Phones and Tablets

While the rest of the world enjoyed ever increasing internet speeds, rural areas were often left out.  I didn’t know what decent internet service was until I got to college!  But smart phones have basically allowed farmers to skip over the dial up and DSL internet service eras and move straight to constant access to the internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For farmers, this means more information and more timely information about their farms and the legislation that effects their farms, access to webinars and tools to make farming and decision making easier, and easy interaction with specialists at Universities and Associations.

photo credit United Soybean Board
photo credit United Soybean Board

Even little things like weather apps and organized information about their farms on their phones has made a huge difference to the work that farmers do every day.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out this video from Grant Noland where he discusses some of the technology they use on their farm.  And the recent Corn Farmers Coalition efforts in Washington, DC focus on technology too!

mitchell_lindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


Grant Noland is an 8th generation farmer from Central Illinois who gave up a corporate job to come back to the farm!

“We probably have more technological programs on our farm than we do actual mechanical, which is a complete change in direction from 20 years ago,” he said. Did you know that farmers are using SO MUCH technology to plant and grow their crops?


corn harvestCorn farmers are starting to think about harvest!  Some years, thinking about harvest means just getting to the end of a bad year and wiping the slate clean, but this year, harvest will be a celebration of a great growing season and a bountiful crop.

The farmers I know can’t wait to get in the field and see what their yields will be.  It’s almost like Christmas!



coffee shop1. Talk with other farmers

In the farming world, this is a joke almost as old as the “cops like donuts” line.  Where will you find a farmer when he’s not farming?  At the coffee shop, talking to other farmers.  The thing is, it isn’t always the coffee shop (sometimes it’s the USDA Agency office or the local machinery dealer) and it isn’t really about just talking.

If you’re a mom and you’re struggling with your newly turned three-year-old, you head straight to your mom friends with older kids to figure out what to do.  Farmers do the same thing.  They talk about yields, soils, weather, machinery, farm programs and more – just to get advice on what others in their area are doing.  It takes a community to raise a child AND a few thousand plants – so I hear.

2. Hang out with their kids/grandkids

One of the greatest benefits of farming is the flexibility.  You work for yourself and you set your own hours.  So when you want to take off at 3 to see your kid’s baseball game, it’s no big deal.

All the farmers I know are family men and they set quite a store on the kids they are raising to be the next generation.  They gladly set aside time to watch band concerts, take the family to the county fair, or just play ball in the backyard … unless it’s planting or harvest season when the schedule flexibility just isn’t there.

3. Read/learn more about farmingTexas Farmer Reading a Magazine

Agriculture is a huge and varied industry that is constantly changing.  From farm programs and conservation programs that change every few years to new recommendations for on farm practices to preserve soil and water, there is a never-ending stream of stuff that farmers need to read up on.

I’m a parent and I know that I’m always interested in the latest research on immunizations or discipline techniques or college applications – I’m likely to read about those things if I find myself with ten extra minutes.  Farmers are the same way; always trying to learn about the changes and the latest research in their industry that could benefit their farm as a whole.

4. Try to figure out the latest technology

farm technologyI know the image that so many people have in their brains about farmers.  Farmers are uneducated, a little backwards, use poor grammar, and don’t understand the way the world works.  While some of that is true – my grandpa has VERY poor grammar in fact! – farmers are actually really smart guys!  They have to know and understand chemistry, business, marketing, biology, medicine, meteorology, and political science to actually make their farm turn a profit every year.

And now they have to understand basic computer science.  Today’s tractors, combines, planters and sprayers are equipped with technology that locates certain sections of the farm and individualizes their treatment for exactly what they need.  If a farmer has one square foot of property that needs more fertilizer than the others (as indicated by a soil test) the equipment can find that square foot and apply the proper amount of fertilizer.

With all this complex machinery comes a learning curve to understanding and using it!  Its hard for me to get used to the iPhone 5S … sometimes, I’m not sure how they do it!

5. Attempt to predict the weather

For every farmer, their entire yearly salary rests on the weather.  One hail storm can destroy them.  One wind can devour a crop.  One more rain can sometimes make this the best year they’ve ever had.  And one more cool day can make pollination – and thus ear size – that much better.

Because they have everything riding on the weather, they are constantly watching it.  When is the next rain coming?  What will the temperature be for the next week?  When is the first frost?  These are things a farmer worries about.  Daily.  And resigns himself to every minute.  Because if there’s one thing you can’t change, it’s the weather.

Lindsay MitchellLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


Looking for a fun and easy activity to do with your kids? This three step process for making play dough is great for teaching kids that corn is in many products that they would never even guess!

What you need:

  • Dish soap – any kind (choose your color and scent)
  • Corn starch
  • Corn oil


  1. In a medium sized, plastic bowl add: ½ cup corn starch, ¼ cup corn oil, and ¼ cup dish soap.
  2. Mix well with fork or spoon until little balls of play dough start to form.*If too greasy and runny, add some more corn starch.
  3. *Add a bit more oil or dish soap if contents do not seem to begin bonding together very well.
  4. Use your hands to begin rolling all of the contents into one big play dough ball.
  5. Store in a zip-lock baggie.

This project can get messy but it sure is fun and the kids will love it! Enjoy!

ElizabethElizabeth O’Reilly
2014 Communications Intern


bathroom cabinet1. Bathroom cabinet – Your bathroom is likely overflowing with corn products, but I’ll just mention a few.  Your toothpaste has the texture and flavor of toothpaste because of corn, make up contains corn starch, and most perfumes have a grain alcohol base.  You would look and smell a lot differently if not for corn.

2. Purse – Corn is in your chewing gum – both to sweeten it and to keep it from getting too hard.

3. Shower – Have you noticed that your shampoo contains citric acid?  Many shampoos do – and even though citric acid makes you think of lemon, limes, and the tropics, much of that citric acid is coming from good, old-fashioned corn.

4.nursery Nursery – Your child’s disposable diapers use a corn product to soak up all that waste and capture it so that you never have to touch it again.  You know how a used diaper feels like gel?  That’s the corn trapping moisture away from your baby’s bottom.

5. Office – I know they don’t taste like corn, but corn products are used in adhesives just like the glue on the back of the envelopes in your office.  You may have switched by now to the sticker sort instead of the lick the flap sort in which case, I commend you.  Those adhesive strips taste awful!

6. Medicine Cabinet – Corn starch and water are the binder and the filler in the aspirin hiding out in your medicine cabinet.  Corn holds the tablet together and also adds bulk so that the tablets are an adequate size – and then delivers that pain-killing relief wherever you need it!

open-house-car-garage-480x3607. Garage – Chances are, you have some squirrel corn sitting around in your garage (which, you better clean that up before you get mice!) but I’m talking about something in your car.   Spark plugs.  The ceramic part of a spark plug that has to be really resistant to heat is made from cornstarch and is a great insulator.

8. Kitchen – Yes, you’ve heard about how high fructose corn syrup is a cheaper sweetener and in everything from yogurt to soda, but I’m not talking about stuff you eat.  Corn is actually used to make those plastic seals that come on your vitamins, oatmeal, pancake syrup and more.  Corn as a plastic is actually really common – and really biodegradable so it’s a great option for an environmentally conscious world.

Lindsay MitchellLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director