Archives for category: Technology

Last week I was fortunate to be able to travel to a warmer climate for a Farm Bureau conference. I missed out on the sub-zero temps, frigid wind chills, and snow that moved through the Midwest, and instead enjoyed lots of sunshine and warmth in San Diego.

In addition to the beautiful weather, one of the best parts of this annual meeting is the opportunity to connect with farmers and ranchers from across the country. It’s great to catch up with friends I’ve met along the way who I may see only once a year, as well as meet new folks in the ag industry.

Upon my return home, I was asked by an acquaintance if I ran into any celebrities in California. I did see Jay Leno there, as he was the comedic entertainment for the closing session, but I didn’t meet him, or even get up close and personal.

I did, however, personally meet, for the first time, several people who definitely qualify for “celebrity” status in the world of agriculture. And there were plenty in attendance who would qualify as a “star” in our industry.

First on the list of those who I was able to meet for the first time was Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University, who was awarded the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award at the conference. She’s an animal behavioral scientist and researcher who has had a major impact on the livestock industry; specifically on how animals are worked and handled. We’ve taken her ideas and utilized them on our own farm, setting up our equipment in suggested formation; we’ve noted greater efficiency and less stress among our cattle. Calmer cattle translate into happier humans who work with them!

Grandin

I also was able to meet Blake Hurst and his wife, Julie. Blake serves as the President of Missouri Farm Bureau, and is a talented writer. I’ve been a fan since 2009 when I read a piece he wrote in response to a book that was anti-agriculture. Thanks to social media I’ve been able to follow the advocacy efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, and it was a pleasure to meet them both in person.

Two more smart and impressive leaders I met during the course of the conference were Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, who works to build consumer trust in our food system, and Paul Wenger, President of California Farm Bureau. I had an interesting conversation with Paul about current challenges to agriculture.

Are any of them typical celebrities? No. They’re not actors, musicians, or whatever-the-Kardashians-are; but they’re accomplished, significant, and influential in the ag world, one that’s vastly more important to me than Hollywood.

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Amish
A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to a picnic at the home of good friends who are also farmers. The guests of honor were 3 generations of an Amish family from Wisconsin, with whom my neighbors had become friendly. It was an interesting experience for me to be around these folks from a different culture. I have Mennonite ancestors on my mother’s side of the family and have always been curious about this way of life. Since the Amish folks are farmers, we had plenty of common ground and it was easy to keep the conversation going.

While chatting, it dawned on me that the people I interact with at the local farmers market a couple of times each week probably look at me similar to how I was viewing the Amish. My customers at the market have very little, if any, experience with agriculture. Fewer than 2% of Americans are involved in farming, and as our county specifically is rapidly becoming urbanized (although agriculture is still the number one industry here), the vast majority of residents have no knowledge or understanding of modern-day farming. Most are two or three generations removed from agriculture, just as I am that many generations removed from my Mennonite roots.

In fact, there have been times when, after seeing a sign at my booth promoting the Facebook page for my farm, I’ve been asked in an incredulous tone if we really have internet service on the farm. Some people are frankly amazed that a farmer is actually using a computer. I’ve received similar comments at the market when people notice that I’m using a smart phone. They’re surprised that a farmer is using modern technology. I have to explain that those of us farming are leading lives that aren’t too terribly different from theirs. We’re not Amish; we’re just part of that small number of people who make our living growing food, fuel sources, and fiber. We shop at the same stores, our kids attend the same schools, and we go to the same churches. I let them know that many in farming are very involved in their communities. We’re on school boards, church councils, coach sports teams, volunteer with service organizations, and are active in local politics, etc. Our jobs in agriculture frequently require long hours, so we may have less time to spend on recreational activities, but many of us still have hobbies we enjoy, just like the non-farm folks. Some of our pastimes are traditional, such as baking, canning, quilting, wood working and gardening. Although other farmers I know enjoy spending time flying airplanes, riding motorcycles, fishing, taking spin and yoga classes, and have hobbies like genealogy and photography. It should be easy to find the common ground.

harvest
Non-farmers may be surprised at how much technology is actually used these days on the farm. Not only do we have smart phones but we constantly use apps to keep an eye on the weather and to track the market prices of the commodities that we produce. There are also apps that can monitor irrigation systems or grain bins and dryers remotely. During harvest season while the farmer may be running the combine in a field many miles away from home, he or she can be keeping track of the temperature and moisture in specific grain bins via the phone.

Those of us who raise livestock have also benefitted from new technology. For example, there are now monitors that can recognize each individual dairy cow, record her body temperature, and track her activity and milk production. The farmer is notified by text of any indicators out of the ordinary, leading to greater efficiency and improved animal care. Air flow monitors in barns are now also common, again enriching animal comfort and care. Many farmers also use video surveillance to help watch livestock, as well as machinery and fuel tanks. A motion sensor triggers a text or phone call.

monitor
It’s now common to see GPS receivers on farm equipment. GPS allows, for example, a combine to collect location data. The yield monitor in the cab then records moisture and yield data that are used to prepare specific reports and maps. This information makes it possible for farmers to use less fertilizer and chemicals, as they are now only applied where and when needed. We are able to create “management zones” and take soil and tissue samples according to a GPS grid. The samples are tested in a lab and the results are used in conjunction with soil type and yields maps to give us great insight into the fertility of our fields. Precision fertilizer application was especially important this year, following the drought of 2012. There were areas where fertilizer in the ground was not utilized last year, for example on the tops of hills. This year we only applied fertilizer to the specific areas that had higher yielding corn last year, thanks to the information provided by the maps. Sprayers now use “swath control” which can turn off the boom to avoid over-spraying.

On planters, GPS allows “auto-steer” to collect data along a path and keeps the planter straight. Information regarding seed population, how well the planter is singulating the seed, and down pressure are all immediately available to the farmer in the cab while planting. He or she can make adjustments for different soil types to plant seed more efficiently. Another new technology “row clutch”, helps avoid over-seeding by turning off individual planter boxes in odd shaped or triangular fields. The seed is only planted where needed.

There is exciting new technology being introduced in agriculture all the time. And it’s not just for the larger farmers. Our farm is considered just average size and it’s readily available to us. If you’re curious about farmers, our lives and what’s happening on our farms, it’s easy to get more information. Many of us are active on Facebook and Twitter, and there are lots of blogs to follow. You’ll find a list of farmer bloggers at http://www.causematters.com/ag-resources/farm-ranch-blogs. You don’t have to wait to be invited to a picnic!