Remember that old flip phone you used to own? It wasn’t super fancy, and its capabilities were fairly limited. The games were fairly simplistic. Reception was kind of shoddy. You even had to own a separate device for navigation (I remember being absolutely reliant on TomTom). But that simple little flip phone got the job done and we were all happy to have one. Then … smart phones. A generation of cell phones later and all of a sudden our phones were radically different.
Agriculture is no different.
Over the years, advances in technology, agronomy, and machinery have transformed the industry. Just like with our cell phones, these changes have taken place over a farm generation. While there are naysayers, these innovations have transformed the way we do business for the better. They have made farmers more sustainable, more efficient, safer, and more profitable.
Here’s my list of the biggest changes in agriculture that has made the industry what it is today.
1. GPS technology
GPS may be the biggest gamechanger in agriculture. While things like autosteer have made driving the tractor a little easier, one of the most important applications is the data we can now collect from our fields. The more farmers know about a particular field, the better they can specifically cultivate that field. The use of GPS technology gives us a detailed look into each field by keeping track of a plethora of detailed information. This data mine has caused some legal challenges recently — who actually owns it? — but it is an invaluable tool that gives farmers the ability to make decisions on a detailed level.
So, we know drones are super good for taking awesome farm videos to broadcast on social media, but they actually can do a whole lot more to benefit agriculture. These high-tech little tools can help farmers get a view of their fields and crops, including a wealth of information, without stepping foot on the ground. Drones are used for drought assessment, yield monitoring, nitrogen recommendations, and even crop health monitoring.
3. Upgrades to pest management
I could probably write an entire dissertation on this topic, but the improvements to our pest management systems from just a generation ago are astounding. I remember seeing grandpa spray our apple orchard with no cab on the tractor and spray flying all over the place. Today, we use sprayers that keep chemical residue close to the ground and plants and cabbed tractors to protect our applicators. Of course, that doesn’t mention the fact that the products we use today are far less toxic and we use a lot less.
4. Seed diversity
If you’ve ever been in the market for commercial quantities of most vegetable seeds, you can appreciate just how many different varieties are available. Take pumpkins for example. We have big pumpkins, little pumpkins, multi-colored pumpkins, pie pumpkins … you get the point. The diversity is, quite frankly, astounding and growers have endless options. This allows farmers to choose seeds that will thrive and produce well in their specific geographical area.
5. Sensory devices
As the kid that always had to go outside throughout the day and check the temperature in the greenhouses during the summer (and open and close them – manually — accordingly), I’m a big fan of automation. Using wifi or other internet connections, we can use our smartphones to monitor the temperature in any location, open and close greenhouses, tell us when the gate to the pasture is open, and even monitor our barns for break-ins.
Did I miss any? Is there anything you would add?
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.