When thinking about the increases in farming technology (such as tractors, improved tillers, etc) the majority of the population does not think about how computers are being integrated into the industry. Improving computer technology has allowed farmers to be much more productive in their work, increasing yield and decreasing costs. However does it come at a price? There are certain things that are difficult in this transition, including the loss of human labor and jobs.
Take this excerpt for example:
Precision agriculture uses satellite signals and global positioning system receivers (GPS) mounted on combines or other farm equipment to plot and remember exactly where the combine is at any given time. With a geographic information system (GIS), the farmer can integrate data from the GPS and other instruments to view color-coded maps that show how crop and soil characteristics vary across the field. The farmer can then adjust field and crop treatments to get the most out of his production.
Jeff Buresh is the crop manager at Amana Farms, a 26,000 acre farm system in Iowa with 9,000 tillable acres, and he says precision agriculture is the tool he uses to get the right inputs in the right places. Yield monitor and GPS and software runs about $12,000, he said, but producers can gain quite a bit of profit from utilizing yield monitors and accompanying GIS software.
In the fall, Buresh uses the yield monitor linked to a GIS vision system. As the combines are going over the field, the yield monitors record the ongoing data, and at the end of the day he downloads the information from each combine to his office computer. “The GIS vision system processes the data by linking the yields to their locations in the field and then spitting out a colorized data map for me,” he said. “We can use that to see where our yields are up or down, and we can adjust to that.”
To stay in business, small farmers are-transforming many different aspects of technology to fit their particular needs. As seen in the feature on the adaptation of small farmers in Hawaii have developed a dry litter system to manage waste and turn it into odorless, rich compost. Sod producers are also working with Hawaii’s unique geography and scarce water resources to produce a “soil-less sod,” that fills a niche on the island of Oahu for renovated lawns.
The feature “Impacts of industrialized agriculture on land in Bafou, Cameroon,” explains how the people in the West-Cameroon highlands are affected by population growth and how they are adapting previously un-tillable land to their agricultural use. Another feature in this issue shows how industrialization of poultry and swine production is changing the demographics of the production industry, and how independent producers are finding it difficult to comply with regulations because of the lack of an integrated support system.
Steve Groff is a third generation farmer in Pennsylvania, and he says he is always on the lookout for technology and that might serve his operation. High-tech success for small farmers means communicating and taking advantage of what’s available, said Groff. “I’m always looking for what’s out there,” he said, “but if it can’t be of much use, or pay for itself, or give me a better bottom line, or make me a better farmer, then I’m not interested. I personally use the guideline that if the technology can be my servant, only then do I need to consider using it.”
A great example of useful technology, he said, is the use of the internet and the creation of a website. Groff’s website at http://www2.epix.net/~cmfarm/ is but one example of the many farm websites on the internet today that contain farm and personal information, chat room opportunities, and agricultural links. Farmers need to be able to communicate via the web and e-mail, said Groff, because the internet puts small farmers in the same playing field with the big boys. “For a marketplace of ideas, it is just incredible,” he said. “I use the site to sell my video that we produced, and I also regularly communicate with folks all over the world — I get to see what they are doing, ask questions, and share information of my own.”
SOURCE: White, Valerie. “Farming with computers.” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, vol. 52, no. 6, 1997, p. 400+.
It is clear that smaller farms might be the bigger beneficiaries of technology as it allows them to stay in business. Farming is becoming harder and harder these days in suburban and tourist areas where the cost of the land and property tax suddenly makes farming completely unaffordable. Even though implementing agricultural preserves in certain areas helps, it’s not sustainable. For instance, in the Hamptons on Long Island, NY, it is clear that farming is becoming a thing of the past. However, the farms are an integral part of the character of that area, adding to its rural charm.
It’s a good thing that technology is advancing into this space. Let me know what you think in the comments below!