Co-op News

Efficient Farming Technologies

By Maria Kanevsky September 2021

Farming practices make use of advanced technologies

man walking toward tractor in field
Photo by Lance Cheung, USDA

As farming technology advances, farmers are finding new ways to reduce costs, improve efficiency and increase crop yields. The newest trend of technological advancements for farming is precision agriculture, a strategy where farmers use advanced technologies to control the growth of crops and raising of livestock more efficiently.

The initial wave of precision agriculture in the 1980s was made possible by GPS (global positioning system) devices, which were first placed on tractors. GPS-connected devices could control a tractor and automatically steer the tractor based on the field’s GPS coordinates. This helped reduce any overlap while driving, making farming practices more efficient.

Justin Dvorak, a Central Rural Electric Cooperative member, is a fifth generation farmer in Noble County. Over the years, the Dvoraks have implemented a variety of precision agriculture techniques, including GPS.

“We have two systems for automatic guidance steering as well as units that track where you have been in the field,” Dvorak says. “We also use soil mapping software for nutrient management and yield mapping during harvest to create detailed maps of crop production.”

Another technology is the crop-monitoring drone, which can take aerial views of fields and help give the farmer a bird’s-eye view of their land. Connecting the drone to special software and GPS can also allow the drone to automatically take photos, making it even easier to use. When combined with GIS (geographic information system), the drone can help analyze the geospatial field data in real-time for the farmer.

Using robotics for precision agriculture can be applied to many kinds of machines. For example, robotic milking machines can be used to automate the cow milking process. These machines help farmers reduce their labor demands while also increasing efficiency, freeing up time for farmers to work on other parts of their farm. Since the machines are optimized to work efficiently, they can also help to remove more milk per cow and provide more rest for the cows.

If farmers want to optimize their crop production, then variable rate technology (VRT) can help. VRT allows the farmer to use a variable rate schedule for application of fertilizer or for irrigation. Although there are several different options for using VRT, the basics consist of a computer, software, GPS and a controller. Farmers can choose to use VRT in either a map-based or sensor-based way, depending on need of the farm. Using VRT helps farmers accurately measure water and fertilizer, save time and maximize irrigation and fertilization efficiency.

Being aware of the best safety practices when working with a specific technology is the best way to avoid accidents. For Stacy Simunek, a Kay Electric Cooperative member and third generation farmer in Grant and Kay counties, technology enhances farm safety. He has been able to lower his use of chemicals and fertilizers on the ground to further limit runoff.

“All of our sprayers and seeders are limiting input costs,”Simunek says. “We use technology to shut the booms on and off automatically keep it down to not over spray.”

It’s no wonder Simunek credits his biggest margin of the year to the technology they have implemented.

“In my opinion the farmer of tomorrow will either have to accept the technology or he won’t be there,” Simunek says.

Although the benefits are clear, there are a few barriers to using these new agricultural technologies. Having a well-established broadband connection is crucial for some of these technologies, and a lack of high-speed internet access can limit the use of precision agriculture technologies. Furthermore, using precision agriculture comes with a relatively large upfront financial investment, which may not provide a return on investment quickly enough to the farm.

Before incorporating precision agriculture technology into any farm, planning and preparation will be crucial to make the best use of the technology.

Maria Kanevsky writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56% of the nation’s landscape.

Categories: Co-op NewsEfficiency
Photo by Lance Cheung, USDA

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