High-tech Tools Transform Farms

From tractors that drive themselves to “remote” cow herding, technology is quickly changing the way farmers operate in the U.S. and around the globe.

Though humans have been growing crops and raising animals for centuries, the techniques for producing food has changed so drastically only recently. Touching almost every aspect of the family farm, new technology is keeping food safe, environmentally friendly, abundant and profitable.

Starting with the seeds they plant, farmers are using technology each and every day. Intensive breeding research is now being conducted to increase yields and to improve stress tolerance, drought and heat protection and increase seed size. According to an article in the Western Farm Press on July 8, technology-led innovations have increased U.S. corn yields by 60 to 70 percent since 1996.

“Not only do farmers have to adapt to new technology to stay profitable, they also must embrace it in order to feed a growing global population,” said Tamara Kass, director for agricultural products for DTN, an electronic information service. “It’s apparent how successful technology is in farming today, as we are producing more every year.”

Farming machinery has also seen many new improvements in the past decade. Fuel efficiency and precision are vital to keep costs low and productivity high. Global positioning systems (GPS) help farmers plot their fields to the inch, control distribution of seed and fertilizers and eliminate waste from crooked rows and overlaps. Durable computers, text-message market alerts and up-to-the-minute weather tracking are also making life easier for savvy farmers.

“All the technology has changed so much just over the past 10 years,” said Greg Place, a Wisconsin farmer who attended a recent “Farm Technology Days” event in his hometown. “I never thought I’d see this in my day.”

Crops and machinery are not the only areas of agriculture riding the technology wave. Those who raise livestock are finding new inventions useful as well. A manufacturer in the Netherlands recently introduced a rotating milking parlor, perfect for increasing profits for U.S. dairies that need to milk more cows per hour.

For ranchers, U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Dan Anderson unveiled the “Ear-A-Round,” a device that can corral cattle remotely by funneling sounds directly to the animals. Eliminating the need for fences and allowing for better use of grazing land, this device could change the age-old role of the American cowboy.

According to an Aug. 10 Associated Press article, ranchers and cowhands will no longer have to spend time building and repairing fences. Instead, “they’ll devote more time to leading animals to areas for better nutrition while protecting natural resources.”

Anderson said that this device, which works by using sound to create a “virtual paddock” through GPS technology, could take the mundane physical labor inherent in herding cattle and help farmers and ranchers focus more on management.

“It’s looking for the best management with the best skills that technology can provide,” he said.

There is no question that technology positively impacts the American farmer, but do you think that there is a flip side to these advancements? Let me know your thoughts. Please comment below.

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