FARM TECHNOLOGY: IT’S ABOUT MORE THAN CONVENIENCE

The history of my farm goes back generations, and we’ve always had the same goal: To make an honest and sustainable living while caring for the environment to ensure a great future for generations to come. The way we have achieved that goal has changed in the last few decades. Modern technology gives me an edge that my father and grandfather didn’t have when growing crops. Farmers use different types of technology, and each person uses what’s right for them. On my farm, this is what works and helps me grow sustainable food.

GPS

Just like when you’re in your car, GPS links to our tractors and combine to guide us through the field with more precision than before and helps us track information with each pass. After a field is completely harvested this fall, I will download the data from the combine and upload it into my laptop so I can analyze the information and come up with a plan for cover crops, fertilizer and planting next spring.

Drones

Aside from the cool factor, drones collect data that allow us to better care for the plants and the land where they grow. The technology allows us to scout – or monitor – our fields in a matter of minutes instead of hours. Click here to read more about how drones improve sustainability on my farm.

The Cloud

All that information I collect goes directly to the cloud. I can pull up the information whenever I need it on my iPad or smart phone. In the spring, I’ll use the collected data and an app on my iPad to control the planter and apply fertilizer and pesticides only where we need them.

New farm technology is exciting, but it’s about more than convenience and gadgets. By using this technology, we will continue to be able to feed more people with less environmental impact, which is absolutely vital to the future of our planet.

MATT BOUCHER

Matt lives and farms in Dwight, IL with his wife and their three children.

View this post as originally presented at watchusgrow.org 

5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT FARMING

Originally published by BestFoodFacts.org

Cows and chickens, fields of corn, a big red barn, green tractors and dusty jeans – these are just a few of the images that come to mind when people hear the word “farming.” But for today’s farmers, there is much more to agriculture than meets the eye. We spoke with three farmers for their insights on how and why they’re committed to producing safe, nutritious and affordable food.

Here are five things we learned:

1. Most farms are owned and operated by families.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture shows that 97 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family-owned operations. Most farmers would tell you that working with their family is key to why they are so passionate about what they do.

“The biggest misconception I’ve heard would be that, as farms have gotten bigger, they have been labeled as factory farms. That we just use the land and move on. Yet, every farmer I know is very family-oriented. I love that our farm is something I can pass on to my family, a legacy, a business and a way of life that my kids love,” said William Layton, a third-generation Maryland farmer and owner of Layton’s Chance Vineyards and Winery.

Jenny Rhodes, University of Maryland Extension Educator in Agriculture and Natural Resources, who owns and operates a grain and broiler chicken farm with her family, said, “I love the whole family aspect and wanted my children to grow up the way I did. Instead of rushing home to spend a few hours with my family, we can spend time together working together. We are all family farms and at the end of the day it’s families working.”

2. Farming is efficient because it is high tech.
Farmers use technology to make advances in producing more food that is more safe, affordable, and produced more efficiently than ever before. Layton said, “Many people have an idea of the old-fashioned farmer, but in reality I spend half of my time in the office making GPS maps for what is going on in the field at any given point. We also have tractors that drive themselves, so we are very technology-based, and technology creates efficiency.”

“Everything you do in farming has to be efficient and sustainable and I love working to improve the resources on our farm so that we can do that,” explained Jenny Schmidt, a registered dietitian and Maryland farmer, whose family produces corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, hay, tomatoes, green beans and wine grapes. “When I talk to people about pesticide usage on our farm, I explain that our sprayer for our tomatoes, green beans, wheat, corn and soybeans sprays at the rate of 15-20 gallons per acre for herbicides. It is a 750-gallon tank so using 15 gallons per acre, this sprayer can cover 50 acres per tank – that’s only 0.04 ounces per square foot. This type of efficiency wouldn’t be possible without technology. Also, many people think we are dousing our fields with pesticides, but that would be inefficient. Spraying isn’t dousing.” Learn more about how the “dose makes the poison” in pesticide usage in “Should You Be Concerned with Pesticides On Produce?”.

3. Farmers are passionate about producing food.
“The thing that I love most about farming is working hard and seeing the results of that hard work. At harvest, I love quitting at dark after a 14-hour day and seeing all that I’ve harvested right in front of me. It’s a great feeling to see that,” said Layton.

“Farming is a passionate job and requires patience to weather through the ups and downs. Ultimately, I love being able to care for the soil and land with the available resources and set the stage for the next generation,” said Schmidt.

Farming is a lifestyle, not just a job. It is 24 hours a day, seven days a week and every day of the year! (Yes, this means vacations are nearly impossible to take!)

4. Farmers use a variety of production methods.
Debates about “organic” and “conventional” crops suggest there are only two ways to grow food: a “good” way and a “bad” way. But an important question to think about is, “What is the best way to feed a growing population, while reducing the amount of resources required?” To address this, farming will need multiple approaches, not just one.

“Many farmers don’t want to be seen as one thing; for me, I want to be seen as both holistic and sustainable. For example, there are trade-offs with all production methods. And each provide different benefits: it’s not an either/or, it’s more about melding the practices together,” added Schmidt. Want to learn more about organic versus conventional? Check out “Organic versus Conventional Foods: Is There a Nutritional Difference?”.

5. There are many ways to become involved with agriculture.
Farm and ranch families make up just two percent of the U.S. population, while most people are at least three generations removed from agriculture. However, the farmers we chatted with all agreed that getting involved in agriculture is for everyone.

Rhodes said it’s important to know what your goal is: Do you want to learn more? Do you want to own your own farm? “After you figure out your goals, then you can decide how to reach them through things like farm tours, working with different national councils, talking with your University extension programs and, of course, talking with the farmers in your area.”

“Social media is a great place to start and to seek out transparent farmers if you have questions about food. I love sharing information about my farm and interesting news articles that are related to the happenings on my farm,” Schmidt added.

Layton concluded, “Agritourism, corn mazes, farm stands, community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, farmers markets – these are all ways to connect with farmers. Talk with the farmers – they are happy to chat with you! I give tours twice a day every day at the winery and people ask questions not only about the grapes and wines but about our crops, too. I love answering these questions.”

Our food supply is abundant, affordable overall and among the world’s safest, thanks in large part to the efficiency and productivity of America’s farm and ranch families. Want to learn more about growing food? Reach out to a local farmer or let us know and we can connect you with one!

DID YOU KNOW GMOs PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT?

Many misconceptions might fuel the belief that GMO crops aren’t environmentally sustainable, but in reality many of the practices often affiliated with sustainable farming are used with GMO crops.

Fewer pesticide applications, conservation tillage (which reduces greenhouse gas emissions) and water conservation are all practices that can be used with GMO crops.

Find out more at GMO Answers!

TECHNOLOGY IN AGRICULTURE: GPS & AUTO-STEER

Technology helps us in a variety of realms, with farming being one of the most important ones for consumers. A program that aligns with technology that assists us all on a daily basis is auto-steer, which works like a GPS system in the fields. Through the use of GPS tracking and recording equipment, farmers were able to track and take note of the way they utilized the equipment manually, and this data drove the success of auto-steering (literally). Some of the many benefits include:

  1. Advanced positioning that prevents overlapping between passes or lands.

This allows farmers to reduce seed loss, and it allows them to work more productively and efficiently. With this efficient system, farmers can spend less time in the field while still maintaining high levels of production.

  1. Automatic adjusting in different directions.

Just like we want our cars to manually drive for us and gauge which direction to move in on its own, farmers wanted the same. With auto-steer, they are able to dedicate their attention to other farm duties and obligations. This allows a farmer to be more relaxed, and it increases productivity in other aspects because the focus no longer revolves around steering manually.

  1. Controlled traffic.

While we all hate traffic for our own personal reasons, it is especially bad in farming because it can cause compaction, which is when soil particles are pressed together and pore space is reduced. This causes reduced rates of water infiltration and drainage from the compacted layer. This can lead to many problems, such as flooding and lack of water being absorbed.

Much less seed is being wasted, which helps everyone save money and makes for a much more efficient and productive system!

  1. Higher yields of production.

 Auto-steer reduces depreciation and wear and tear on machinery, and it also prevents doubling or missing chemical applications, which all result in reduced yields.

In the end, auto-steer brings farming to a whole new level of effectiveness. Interestingly enough, farming technology aligns significantly with the technology we use in our everyday lives. As technology continues to grow in agriculture, the quality of our food continues to improve with it. The work of farmers goes hand in hand with the happiness and health of people all around the world. It is important that we understand the role it plays in the fields, regardless of which field we’re in!

Samantha Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois

TECHNOLOGY IMPACTING AGRICULTURE: GRAIN YIELD MONITORS

The world is constantly changing. New technology is introduced daily that makes people’s lives easier. The agriculture industry specifically uses new technology in many ways. Farming technology has come a long way from the horse and steel plow to autosteer tractors. Farmers take advantage of technology to help them be successful.

One specific piece of technology that helps farmers is a grain yield monitor. {Insert picture of grain yield monitor} A grain yield monitor is a device with sensors that calculates and records the crop yield or grain yield as the combine operates. The monitor measures the harvested grain mass flow, moisture content, and speed to determine how much grain is being harvested.

A grain yield monitor can be very beneficial to a farmer. Jeff Austman, a farmer from Livingston County, shared with me his thoughts on technology in agriculture and how it has helped his farming operation succeed. “I started farming in 1993 with minimal technology.” As time progressed and new technology emerged, Austman began using a grain yield monitor. The yield monitor collects data while the combine is running and automatically sends the yield map to Austman’s iPad for him to analyze.

By looking at the yield map, Austman discovered that a pond hole was causing lower yields in one part of the field. To fix the problem, he tiled the area. “By tiling that specific area,” explained Austman, “yields increased so much that the tiling project was almost completely paid off in one year.” The grain yield monitor allowed him to find areas that brought in the highest yields but also allowed him to improve areas that were less productive.

Austman is just one the of many farmers across the United States using technology in his farming operation. Technology plays a key role in enabling farmers to farm successfully. As time goes on, more and more technology will be introduced that will allow farmers to continue improving their operations.

Laine Honneger
University of Illinois

TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF A FARMING SEASON

It’s the day after Christmas and we’re already thinking about the next farming season. Want to know what goes into a farming season in just a few short minutes? Check out virtual video series on farming!

#360Corn is a series of 360-degree videos featuring our own Illinois corn farmer, Justin Durdan.  Justin lets us plant corn with him, spray for pests, fertilize those little baby corn plants, and even harvest and sell his crop – all while we can look 360 degrees around the tractor cab, the farm and even the field.

Check out the entire experience here.

TECHNOLOGY CHANGES AGRICULTURE: UAVs

In today’s day and age, technology is a large part of the world that we live. Everywhere that you turn, people are soaking up all of the features that have technology has to offer. Many industries have seen many advancements in the area of technology and the agriculture industry is definitely no stranger to this type of development. Through technology, the agriculture industry has seen an introduction of new ways to prosper.

A specific area in agriculture that has been affected by technology is the area of crop production.

Picture this- it is the middle of summer and the sky is clear for miles to see. Suddenly, you notice a small aerial object flying over a nearby crop field and you wonder exactly what this item could possibly be.

You think, well maybe it is just a large bird.

Or maybe the object is just a small airplane.

It turns out that the aerial device that you saw was a new item that has been introduced into the agriculture industry. This device is known as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAV.

This type of vehicle is useful to crop farmers all around the country. With a UAV, remote controller and laptop individuals in the crop sector of the industry are able to look at crops from a bird’s eye view. The ability to look at a field from this perspective is much more ideal than having to spend hours upon hours walking through rows of a field to investigate the progress that the crops are making.

Not only does this device allow individuals to see the world from a bird’s eye view, but video capability is also available so that footage of the field can be viewed later and in more depth.

By using an UAV and this viewing capability, an individual in the agronomy side of the industry is able to look for things such as crop damage. An individual is also able to see the different spots of damage that a field may have and just how big of an area is affected.

Along with being able to view the amount of crop damage in a field without physically going through the field, some UAV’s also have the ability to monitor plant health. Through the addition of an infrared camera, one can also investigate different specifics of plant health such as soil fertility and use this information to understand just how much fertilizer needs to be added to a field in order to increase the nutrients in the soil and achieve the highest crop yield possible.

So, the next time that you are outside, and someone points out an object in the sky that easily resembles a large bird or a small airplane, you can inform them of the different benefits that this type of device that is contributing to the success of the agriculture industry. Just like any other aspect of the world, the agriculture industry is continuing to see new technological developments, like the introduction of UAV’s, in order to feed the world’s growing population.

Below is a video that goes into even greater detail about the contribution that UAV’s have towards the agriculture industry: https://www.facebook.com/MarylandFarmHarvest/videos/1499311513489734/

Sierra Day
Lake Land College

CURRENT CORN PRICES: THE BEST BLACK FRIDAY DEAL

Black Friday, also known as the Super Bowl for shoppers, is quickly approaching. Shoppers are actively searching and price checking to see which stores are going to have the best deals to start their holiday shopping. Black Friday shoppers are currently making a game plan of what stores they need to shop at and where to get the best deals as possible to be used as gifts for their loved ones during this season of giving.

But what makes Black Friday Deals so great?

Companies are creating more of their products so they can sell at a lower price so it attracts customers not only to their product but to their company as a whole. Is this ideal for the company right away? Probably not, but with the long-term goal in mind it probably favors them.

Current corn prices are a lot like Black Friday deals. Buyers are getting a heck of a deal on corn, but the Company (corn farmers in this case) are really taking a cut in what they should be taking because prices are so low.

But why are Corn Prices so low?

There is a couple of factors that play into this one.

  1. Drought

Throughout the world, there has not been a significant drought for at least 18-24 months. When a drought happens, corn does not grow or produce as much as it normally would. When all of the countries around the world are all producing crops at a normal or even higher rate, prices are bound to get lower because no one is suffering from a shortage. Though it’s good that droughts are not impacting a specific country, it’s really taking a toll on the corn market.

  1. Technology

With the advancement of crop technology such as the use of GMO’s, corn has been able to produce higher yields. With more corn being grown more than before all around the world, we have created an overabundance which results in lower prices. On the contrary, though, farmers are wanting to grow more corn though so they have more to sell, even though prices are very low.

This year’s corn crop has made an abundance more than it normally does (though it has not set a record high). Corn prices really stink right now, but we are hoping to be prepared in the future when someone bad happens to a corn crop anywhere in the world. Prices are bound to get higher in the future because that is how this cycle works. Farmers have to practice patience and trust that one day the deal is going to play in their favor, just like what Black Friday shoppers do each and every year.

Abby Jacobs
Illinois State University

WHAT WAS FARMING LIKE 10/25/100 YEARS AGO?

 

Change is the only constant in a perpetually evolving world.  Just as life and traditions change, so do farming practices. In today’s day in age, farmers have easy access to tractors and large machinery, which make the profession of farming much easier. Agriculturists also have the technology of fertilizers, that ensure the crops receive necessary nutrients. Advancements in chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides are used to rid fields of unwanted weeds and pests. However, farming has not always been this precise of a science. It’s interesting to look back and see how far farmers have come in the past century.

Early in the 20th-century farmers used a system of planting called hill dropping of checked corn. This system required a wire to be strung from one end of a field to the other, and it would be strung through a planter powered by a team of horses. This wire would release a small pile of corn, hence the term ‘hill’, in 42-inch rows. But why 42 inches? Because that’s the average width of a horse! These checked rows allowed for cultivators to be easily pulled through the field. Since there were no herbicides to kill weeds, farmers relied solely upon cultivators to uproot the nuisances. More in-depth information on this practice can be found here!

Fast forward to about 25 years ago, when farming seems to have vastly improved from the seemingly primitive ways of the early 1900’s. Instead of farming in 42-inch rows, corn grew within 30-inch rows. This allowed for more plants to grow in each field, which lead to an increase in yields. By this point in time, farmers were using tractors to pull their planters, which greatly increased the efficiency of their time and efforts.  However, these aren’t the only technological benefits! In the 1990’s farmers started utilizing satellite technology to increase their accuracy, which made the farming profession a very meticulous one. Additionally, the number of farmers trying conservation tillage methods continued to rise. This simply means that producers leave more plant residue in the field, with intentions to prevent erosion. This extra plant material will add organic matter to the soil, which will also improve the land’s productivity. On top of all these advancements, in 1997 the first insect and weed resistant crops become commercially available. If you’re particularly interested in learning more about how farming improved in the 90’s, I suggest you check out this link!

Farming in the early 2000’s… was it really that much different from farming today? To start off with, one of the most important pieces of legislation regarding farming practices was passed. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, also referred to as the Farm Bill, created rules and regulations for anything from conservation practices, to organic agriculture, to crop insurance. This bill promoted innovative solutions to resource challenges, established a new disaster assistance program, expanded the opportunities for farmers’ markets, and much more!  Further information about the full impacts of the 2008 Farm Bill can be found here. Without these past accomplishments, the agriculture industry would certainly not be the same as it is today.

Rosie Roberts
Iowa State University