Farm Horizons, September 1997

Technology in farming


Global Positioning System (GPS), Data Transmission Network (DTN), and the Internet are all words common to many farmers today, said Harlan Anderson of Cokato.

The Internet that the kids play on is an important source of information for farmers, he said.

"It allows me to learn about what is out there without leaving my home. I can even look at machinery without committing to a salesman," said Anderson.

The seed companies keep the farmers abreast of new developments in the area of seeds. They also alert the farmers to problems that develop in the fields during the growing season.

The white mold in soybeans is one example. The Internet contains information and pictures, so the farmer can identify and treat the problems in the early stages.

"Once you get used to using it, it is really great," Anderson said. Because of downsizing, there are fewer knowledgeable people available in the county extension offices around the country.

He said there is access to information that is not available in the real world.

Marketing is one thing farmers haven't done a good job with so far, he said. Software is not farmer-friendly, yet.

"I'm trying to market my soybeans on the Internet, and it's not going well," he said.

"If a significant market occurs someplace, I should be able to find it and sell my product."

But, said Anderson, the time is coming. If the need is there, someone will come up with the solution.

One thing farmers have with the new farm bill is the freedom to farm. They also have the freedom to fail.

If a farmer can find a buyer to contract for soybeans at a good, profitable price, he can plant his fields to soybeans.

Perhaps corn would be more profitable on some fields, then he could plant corn.

The farmer now has the ability to produce the product that will give him the most profit.

Up until now, he said, the government has been the market for farm products. Loan prices have dictated the real price received by the farmer.

Bankers aggravated the situation, because they wanted the guaranteed prices. That was when the farmer lost the ability to self-market.

With the new farm bill, there are no more price guarantees; the farmer is going to have to learn to market his product.

The DTN is another tool used by many farmers, today. This is a satellite transmission from the National Weather Service that alerts farmers to weather changes, updated every 15 minutes.

Weather is the number one factor in a crop farmer's day to day decisions, said Anderson.

Another amazing high tech tool is the GPS. The Global Positioning System was developed by the United States Defense Department.

It was the system citizens saw in the Gulf War that pinpointed the exact door a missile went through, he said.

John Deere leads the equipment manufacturers in installing the GPS in its combines.

The GPS maps the yield on a field, acre by acre. It can record the trouble spots for weeds and help develop a program for dealing with them.

Fertilizer can be tailored to the field's needs. The fertilizer applicators can be set to follow the field map, putting more on the poor spots and less on the good ones, said Anderson.

This is a savings for the farmer, and a more environmentally sound practice.

It can also help the farmer determine the proper crop rotations for each field.

Seed companies can also find out how their products are performing and compare them to others.

Internet, computers, and other high technology are the wave of the future for farmers, said Anderson.

"It's kind of a use it or lose it situation," he said. The farmer is a big Internet user now, and he is going to have to move right along with the technology or be left behind."

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