Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Technology on the farm

From page A4 | June 02, 2014 |

“How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm
After they’ve seen Paree.”

Technology is the answer. The old song references milking cows, but in the Midwest corn belt, technology is increasing crop yields and cutting planting times in half. The latter is a big bonus for a year when the East and Midwest were hit by the Polar Vortex. That meant spring came late and there was a limited window for planting.

Here is what technology has done for the American farmer: With a $400,000 tractor run by GPS and computer software for planting, a farmer can start planting at night because the tractor drives itself. Realistically, a farmer can catch some zzz’s at night and read the Wall Street Journal in the morning after checking corn futures on his smart phone, all the time while the tractor is driving itself.

The computer program monitors seed rates, dispensing it at precise intervals, 24 rows at a time, changing the intervals to conform to soil type, quality and moisture. The GPS not only self-steers the tractor, but insures every strip of land is seeded. The information on seeding is then sent up to the cloud for later downloading.

Last year growers seeded 43 percent or 41 million acres in one week, a record.

When the bypass is flooded, motorists on Interstate 80 can see crop duster airplanes planting rice in the spring. The next advance will be GPS-programmed drones planting rice. Technology is driving greater crop yields in this country and easing the work of America’s farmers, but it is also driving down prices as yields rise.

Comparing rice farming in America with fields prepared by GPS-driven equipment and seeded by aerial planting that holds the potential for further GPS-driven efficiency to what takes place in Japan is like day and night. Japanese rice farmers hand-plant a few acres. Some may use a small tractor to plant rice shoots. It often looks more like a hobby than a profession.

The problem with Japan is that the government protects farmers, by adding import duties and a lot of other hurdles — such as recycling taxes for packing containers — for importers of fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s the reason fruit is so expensive there. Little fresh fruit gets there from South America and North America.

Ecuador, Chile and Mexico keep California supplied with fresh fruit all year long. When the California and Oregon fruit crops are harvested and marketed, then fruit comes in from South America’s west coast. California gets healthier, fresher food. Less of that makes its way back East.

With Agricultural commissioners and UC farm advisers in each county, California produces an incredible variety of food. In 2011, the value of crops sold in this state was $43.5 billion, according to USDA’s 2012 report. There were 81,500 farms. That year recorded a 15 percent increase over 2010. Iowa came in a distant second to California with a crop value of $29.9 billion.



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