Farming and Ranching

Jennifer Banks: From drones to fertilizers, farming embraces tech

JENNIFER BANKS, controller and financial analyst, Scythe & Spade Co. in EagleOctober 22, 2013 

Are you surprised to read about farming and ranching in an issue about technology? You shouldn't be. Just like much of our everyday lives, technology has become an essential tool in the farmer's shed.

In the 1830s, it took 250 to 300 labor hours to produce 100 bushels of wheat from 5 acres. Today, we send over 6 billion emails every hour, and farmers can produce 100 bushels of wheat from 3 acres in less than three hours. From the field to the office, technology has made significant changes in how crops are harvested and farms and ranches are operated.

Biological advancements have significantly changed many areas within agriculture. Aside from controversies about GMOs (genetically modified organisms), there are widely accepted biological products that have been incorporated into seed and crop productions. Examples include developing drought-resistant crop varieties for different climates as well as maximizing plant health. In addition, advancements have come in the areas of fertilizer and pesticides, making both more effective and less harmful. Scientists and biologists also are studying the best ways to manage farm waste, which include new uses as biofuels; these studies illustrate the economic benefits as well as the environmental impact of such programs.

The fertilizer industry is older than the state of Idaho. Farmers are looking for ways to boost yields using new fertilizer technologies that take into account existing soil composition. There have been improvements in the application of fertilizers as well as the monitoring of chemical levels.

Technological improvements in food storage have paid off for farmers, from food canning to grain elevators to refrigeration. These technologies have expanded the market for farm products to a global audience.

In 1837, John Deere began manufacturing steel plows that ignited the farm equipment industry; today's farm machinery can be unmanned and driven remotely using sensors in the fields or satellite positioning systems. Materials used in farm equipment have evolved to reduce weight, carbon emissions and fuel consumption. Drones equipped with cameras and other sensors can be used to check fields, soil conditions, livestock or machines.

Water is a finite resource and farmers want to find the best ways to bring water to their crops. Today's technologies have made irrigation more precise and efficient, especially in the West. Farmers can use sensors or satellite imagery to determine when and how much watering is needed for crops, and when. Engineers work to develop pivots and sprinkler systems that reduce water leakage and seepage.

Farmers aren't used to sitting still and have embraced the use of mobile devices to better communicate and monitor operations. Sensors in the field can report real-time information on crop yields or the status of livestock.

A hundred years ago, one farmer supplied enough food to feed about nine people. Technology has made it possible for today's farmer to produce enough food for up to 100 people.

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