There is something interesting taking place in farming that most people not directly involved in the industry probably appreciate, and that is the increasing use of computer technology.
You can be driving down any grid road on the Canadian Prairies and see a tractor in the field, and from the car seat they do not look all that different from a tractor a quarter century ago, except their sheer size.
But climb inside the cab of a new tractor and you quickly recognize the level of technology which farmers now utilize.
It’s the same when looking at a combine, or sprayer, as well.
Equipment today is highly computerized, with monitors for everything, and the information the monitors compile give farmers insights into what they are doing in the field which previous farmers could not dream of knowing.
The ability to know exactly what is happening as the wheel turns across the field, and it also offers farmers knowledge to maximize exactly what they are doing that day.
Perhaps the area the public should be aware of is the way global positioning technology is creating precision farming in terms of laying down both fertilizer and crop protection products.
By preventing pass overlaps, and adjusting application rates to areas of the field farmers optimize their investment, but the environment has to benefit too.
There is nothing to be gained by fertilizer that is not utilized by a crop so it may leech to groundwater.
There is also nothing to be gained by doubling application of herbicides.
The technology available to farmers is allowing them to be ‘greener’ in terms of what their impact on the environment is.
And things are going to get better.
It is not so much science fiction as when the technology arrives at the farm gate that farm sprayers will have the technology to recognize individual plants in a field and apply spray to those and not the entire green canopy.
Once such technology is purchased it will have an obvious pay back by reducing total product applied.
You could see the same plant recognition technology being ideal for in-field application of foliar supplement, which would go direct to plants and nothing else.
Farmers are already seeing that benefit on the fertilizer application side of things. They are able to overlay soil test results from across a large field and the computers adjust application rates to specific areas within a field. For example the added nutrient requirements on the top of a hill will not be the same as in a fields low spots, nor will they be the same in a lighter area which may be more saline.
The advantages of precision farming will include precise placement of seeds in the future as well. Large seed plants such as corn have been the main focus of the development of seeding systems which metre out seeds precisely to ensure the optimum number of seeds in a row.
Over time that same technology is moving to be used in small seed crops such as canola. The monitors maximize seeding rates, reducing seed costs, and helping the crop maximize production based on plants per square foot.
The equipment may look similar to that of a quarter century ago, the technology of computer monitors is fundamentally changing how crops are planted, cared for and harvested.
Certainly precision farming is at the heart of operations today, and will only become more refined moving forward.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.