Anderson Live : Question of the Week
December 10, 2012 by USFRA
Each day consumers have questions about how their food is grown and raised – and who better to answer those questions than a farmer or rancher? Each week we’re highlighting an Anderson Live viewer question from our Facebook along with a farmer/rancher answer. Today, we are exploring “What has been the best new technology or management style that farmers and ranchers use to produces more food?”
This week, the USFRA Faces of Farming & Ranching finalists provided their expertise:
To me the use of GPS and variable rate technology has been the best new technology that we have implemented on our farm in the last few years. We started using GPS satellite technology to vary the rate of fertilizer we put on our land approximately five or six years ago. We download maps of our farms on to our computer, and create zones in our fields according to soil type. These zones are soil sampled independently, then each sample is sent to the soil testing lab to be analyzed. When we get the results, we create a fertilizer prescription for each zone, load this into the computer in our tractor, and it applies only what each zone needs when you go across the field. We use the same technology to capture yield data when harvesting. This data is analyzed to match up varieties by soil type, as well as seed populations for each zone. We are able to vary the rate of seed as we plant following the same analysis and writing of prescriptions. By farming this way, we are conserving our resources by applying exactly what is needed for our crops to grow.
I think that for our operation being solely a crop farm we have been able to start to really embrace GPS technology and it has allowed us to increase yields on our crops greatly! We have a GPS driven irrigation system for example that allows us to get the exact amount of water at the perfect times of the growing season. We believe this helped increase our yields this past year by 20%. We also have used similar technology to apply crop management tools such as weed control, to increase accuracy. I know that this type of technology has been instrumental on our farm to do more with less, but there are so many advances that have helped farmers and continue to help them grow more food! Research on varieties of seeds, GMO technology, best management practices have all been instrumental. And in the future I think all of the above will only continue to be more and more important in order to feed the world!
For our farm, the best new management style we are using today is climate controlled barns to protect our hogs and keep our food supply safe. Moving our hogs inside has allowed us to protect our hogs from diseases tracked by wildlife and birds and from the elements of the weather. When it’s 100 degrees outside, our hogs are in a cool barn that is like the air conditioning we have in our homes, this is important since a hog cannot sweat to cool it’s body. In the winter, when it’s 5 degrees below zero, our hogs are warm inside our barns and their feed is clean and dry. Today’s consumer demands a leaner piece of pork because it is healthier, this change in pork has resulted in hogs with less body fat so that challenge led us to moving our hogs inside a climate controlled area to keep the hogs comfortable and reduce stress. For our farm, moving our hogs into this climate controlled area resulted in less medication being used because we are better able to protect our animals from disease and predator attacks. The barns also allow us to keep our hogs cleaner and we can collect the manure and apply it as natural fertilizer to our soil after we have tested the manure for nutrient content. By testing the manure for nutrient content, we are better able to apply the fertilizer according to the needs of the soil, this prevents us from over applying or under applying the fertilizer.
Computerization (called Afi-Milk) that allows us to monitoring our cows’ health has been the technology that most improved productivity at Rosy-Lane Holsteins. Each cow wears a transponder on her leg like a bracelet with a computer chip that identifies her. It collects all kinds of data about her as she goes about her day. Every 8 hours she enters the milking parlor and this information is then downloaded into the computer. We know how many steps she took, how long it took her to milk, her milk quality, and more. This information allows us to accurately monitor her health and make decisions in her best interest. And, as one example, because we group the cows based on how long it takes them to milk (like cows together), we can get 14% more cows through the parlor in 24 hours and harvest more milk every day.
One of the best new technologies that we are using on our farm is our conversion to No-Till farming for vegetable production. It combines planting multi-species cover crops for soil fertility and pest control with a roller crimper and precision seed drill. In one pass with the tractor we are able to roll down with a front mounted roller crimper and force kill the cover crop. This produces an organic mat which increases water retention, reduces runoff, maintains soil temperature stability, and aids weed suppression. On the same pass we use a precision seed drill on the back of the tractor to plant directly into the cover crop mat. This minimizes soil disturbance while accurately planting the crop. This practice is more environmentally friendly and sustainable as it builds soil fertility by increasing microbial activity, adds organic matter, and increases soil tilth. We are able to produce more food with less labor and fuel. No-Till farming can be used for conventional as well as organic production.
One of the oldest and most effective management quotes on record is "you can't manage what you don't measure". Farmers and ranchers continue to get new technologies in order to record and measure more and more information. As we continue to collect and record more data we are able to manage more intensely. Examples of these include the use of EID (electronic identification) tags and the collection of this information. At 4+ Feeders we are able to document the antibiotic given, date given, and withdraw date. Being a backgrounder for calves that eventually move to another feed yard, this information easily transfers to the next care takers of the cattle. In return beef consumers can be sure that their steaks, burgers, brisket or roast is completely safe.
In general, the technology found in today’s tractors, combines, sprayers and fertilizer carts is astounding in its abilities and in the way it has changed how we manage our fields. We are now accurate within inches when planting a seed, fertilizing a field or applying a pesticide. That accuracy has given us the ability to be more efficient in the use of our land and water resources and to reduce our use of fertilizers and pesticides. For example, AutoTrac allows tractors, combines and sprayers to drive themselves following a pre-programmed route through the field, eliminating overlap, reducing soil compaction and keeping the structure of the soil strong. Combine AutoTrac with Swath Control, and now the amount of herbicides and fertilizers applied to a field is greatly reduced because the tractor’s computer is literally reading soil fertility maps and information about weed, disease and insect pressure, automatically adjusting the rate of application or shutting off a spray nozzle completely.
But no amount of technology can replace what Mother Nature brings to the table. Her willingness to provide sun, rain, warmth and a gentle breeze at just the right time can make or break a crop.
The best new technology/management style that has improved our production as a turkey grower is our ventilation system. Manufacturers of poultry equipment have taken modern heating and air conditioning technology and designed a system which is run by computers to monitor conditions inside our barns to maintain a comfortable environment for our birds year round. By making continuous adjustments to the levels of ventilation inside the barns, management has become much easier to provide an optimal temperature for the birds to promote good health and allow the birds to maximize growth. This investment has not only allowed us to maximize the production of turkey, but it also saves on costs...such as feed, which has become the most expensive input in raising a turkey. When the birds are free from heat stress in the summer or cold temperatures in the winter, they maximize the conversion of feed to pounds of protein for consumers. Our greatest concern as a turkey grower is animal welfare, and by keeping our birds comfortable we achieve the highest feed conversion. This is a win/win all the way around!
There have been so many agricultural advancements over the past few decades that it would be easy to claim one of any number of them as the best at helping farmers and ranchers become more productive. After taking a look at my own dairy farm, advancements in dairy genetics has had the greatest impact on our cows' productivity. We artificially inseminate our cows, using a process known as "selective mating" to build upon key traits and characteristics we want in our herd. Over time, these genetic improvements within our own herd have led to an average increase in well over 4000 pounds of milk a year per cow without requiring more feed.