Technology in Agriculture

Long gone are the days of the horse-drawn plow and scythe. Farmers today are utilizing an array of modern technologies that have advanced the agricultural industry to an unanticipated state.

In 1830, 300 hours of manual labor were required to produce just five acres of wheat. Today, the same yield is produced in less than two hours (

Agricultural progress is the direct result of the innovation of the farming industry as well as federal research and the implementation of federal policies.

Chemically enhanced fertilizers, genetically altered seed and disease-and-weather resistant crops are a few of the principal technologies that advanced the industry. Now, the focus is about equipment and comes in the form of satellite-information technologies that have revolutionized farming accuracy and precision.

Gossip-worthy gadgets:
• Autonomous tractors: Though still a concept for the future, more engineering companies are developing driverless tractors that will farm using computers and cameras. “Autonomous tractors — ones that operate without a human in the loop — are definitely what we’re all trying to do. It’s the next great frontier for the ag equipment market,” said Aaron Senneff, manager of hardware and systems engineering for John Deere. Selling points include saved time and opportunities for farmers with disabilities.
• Auto steering: A precursor to autonomous tractors, auto steering is the hands-free navigation of farm equipment using satellite technology, although a farmer is still needed in the hot seat to initially start the process. Auto steering greatly reduces overlapping. Other advantages can be viewed in this YouTube video.
• Fleet-management technology: Instead of using cell phones to call farm partners for status updates and whereabouts, more and more farmers are using software similar to what is used in the trucking industry to do their busywork. Not only do systems provide vehicle locations, but they can also monitor vehicle speeds and machinery information such as engine temperature and fluid levels. Some systems boast “immediate service response” capability similar to GM’s On Star.
• Internet in the cab: USB, WiFi adapters in tractor and combine cabs allow farmers to send e-mails, order parts and access market news and weather updates while simultaneously prepping, planting or harvesting. The cab literally becomes “an office on wheels.”
• On-the-go sensing: GPS sensors log information such as soil condition, depth of tillage, number of seeds planted and product application levels for heightened efficiency which, “greatly increases the capacity for measuring the variability that is inherent in all agricultural fields,” said Bruce Erikson, Purdue ag economist.
• Vision-based side dressing: A sensor-equipped computer evaluates crop growth and assesses fertilizer needs based on conclusions – removing the guessing game for producers.

Many agricultural groups have realized a significant cost benefit from implementing some of these new technologies.

Technology has shaped the direction of American farming development. Conventional machinery and methods are being replaced with computers, sensors and GPS tools to till, spray, plant and plow. Farmers and consumers alike can be grateful for innovations that are more cost effective and have potential to produce greater, more dependable yields with less crop damage and manual labor.

But, not everyone thinks modern agriculture is ideal. It comes with a price tag, causing financial problems for some smaller farming operations that struggle to compete in a burgeoning industry. Critics assert that devices are replacing people and ousting the nostalgic family farm tradition. Others bring up environmental concerns in regards to overproduction and misuse of land because of technology’s ability for mass returns.

What are your thoughts about technology’s impact on American agriculture? What technologies have you witnessed being utilized in your farm community? What would the ultimate farming technology be?

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