The Future of Farming: Technology increasingly reshaping agriculture as we know it
FARGO- Driver-less tractors, unmanned aerial vehicles and daily satellite images of crops and livestock are all part of the future of North American agriculture, according to Paul Gunderson, director of the Dakota Precision Ag Center at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, N.D.
"There's a large amount of technology here that is just waiting to spring in the agriculture arena going forward," he said recently during the North Dakota Trade Office-sponsored 2014 Global Business Connections conference in Fargo.
Precision agriculture is a method of using computer technology and field history data to determine which agronomic practices will maximize crop yields.
It can help producers become more efficient, enhance crop yields, simplify data storage and retrieval, and reduce the risk of injury, Gunderson said.
"There's a huge future here," he said.
Gunderson said 92 percent of central and high plains ag producers routinely use some precision ag technologies and producer adoption of cloud technology (storing and retrieving information over the internet) has grown by 1,000 percent since last August.
"It's an enormous change in a very short period of time," he said. "The technology has become very appealing as producers move in that direction."
A farmer could use Google Glass technology - a computer worn like glasses that can shoot photos, video and access the internet hands-free - to transmit pictures of weeds to a plant expert for instant advice. Or he could send video of broken equipment to a mechanic to save time diagnosing the problem, Gunderson said.
"One of the things we deal with with producers is they are just really pressed for time," he said.
The Dakota Precision Ag Center is participating in an exploratory program with Google Glass to assess potential utility, wearability and ruggedness for sustained use in agricultural work environments, Gunderson said.
Remote sensing through satellite and unmanned aerial vehicles technology can be used to track soil properties, weather, crop condition, crop yield and thermal levels, Gunderson said.
"For producers who need to maximize their bottom line, having history of what their land can produce is so critical," he said.
UAVs can help farmers move cattle, watch for predators during calving and use thermal imaging to monitor the animals' body temperatures for disease management and fertilization.
Gunderson also said there's an emerging need for farmstead security. Farmers at an auction in Williston were talking about people stealing copper from farm equipment and cattle being shot, he said.
"The day when producers will experience theft undeterred is just about over," he said.
Trever Meier with Superior Manufacturing grain storage company out of Kindred, N.D., said technology with ag applications is getting more and more advanced.
"In our industry, in the grain bin industry, the technology to be able to monitor your commodity in your bins is just phenomenal," Meier said. "It's to the point where you can put in parameters and fans will run themselves only when conditions outside are optimal."
While the technology can be costly, Meier says using technology to monitor grain is safer, prevents grain from burning up, and allows farmers to sell it at peak moisture content.
Tom Wollin with the North Dakota Trade Office said a lot of new ideas in ag technology are coming from the Red River Valley.
"There are entrepreneurs here who have been involved with agriculture through many generations and see its applications," he said. "Technology in and of itself is useless. The application of that technology in a manner that produces results for these farmers, for these ranchers, for these people involved in agriculture, that will drive its implementation."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526