Encourage the expansion of digital technology in agriculture | Main edition
With the impending passage of the Infrastructure Bill of 2021, farmers are eagerly awaiting the expansion of rural access to broadband service.
The Farm Foundation recently hosted a forum to discuss the advancement of digital agriculture at the farm level. The online forum discussed what helps and what hinders farmers as they adapt to using digital technology to improve their farming practices.
Two important takeaways from the forum were a review of what farmers need to understand about software and vendors if they are to maximize the use of digital technology on their farms, and second, recruiting young people with strong software development skills to produce farm software that is easy to use and provides the level of information and support farms need today.
The participants in the forum were representatives of family farms, agricultural cooperatives and agricultural enterprises.
Teddy Bekele, senior vice president of Land O’Lakes, opened the forum by recalling that “the future of agriculture is data driven”.
This means that technology is needed to provide remote sensing, computer imaging and augmented technology. These are complex and vital data collection services that need to run with little to no time for field testing or corrections. Farmers need software that works. Bekele said there are plenty of tech solutions coming to the market, but these varied data tools lack compatibility.
In addition, software developers do not have the time or resources to properly train the farmer in the use of their software. Currently, the broadband services on which the technology is based are unreliable or non-existent. About 60% of farms do not have sufficient connectivity.
And this is where the MiEnergy Cooperative comes in. Dean Nierling and Brian Krambeer represented this cooperative which serves more than 18,800 members in 11 communities.
The cooperative has obtained grants and loans to help farmers connect to the Internet by fiber optics. The cooperative recognized Internet access as essential to the success of agriculture. They have developed training programs for farmers on new software and advise farmers on the best equipment to maximize internet access once it becomes available.
Steve Pitstick has been a farmer in Illinois for 45 years. He has been using GPS soil sampling since 1993. When he started using “real-time” data collection in 2012, “everything changed on the ground”.
“Old data” is of little use in the rapidly changing environment of advanced organic agriculture. Pitstick also pointed out that farmers want the data they collect on the farm to be proprietary.
“I don’t want to give away my recipe for what I’m doing,” he said.
At this time, there is no guarantee that a farmer’s data will remain under their control. Pitstick pointed out that farmers were the first to adopt the technology and have learned a lot from sharing data.
Their concern now is whether they will regret disclosing their farm information? What if the laws change? There would be documents that farmers would not control. And then there’s the issue of output-based pricing.
However, Pitstick said he managed the machinery and the plantation better with the technology.
“25 years ago I harvested 125 bushels per acre; today it’s gone to 220-240 bushels an acre, ”Pitstick said.
Nierling agreed, adding that with the technology he both saved money and got a better return.
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But farmers must weigh the costs and benefits of using more technology.
For members of his cooperative, Krambeer said, it costs $ 18,000 to connect each farm to broadband. He compared investment to the era of rural electrification.
With the level of financial investment that farmers are making in digital technology, farmers need a reliable way to learn how to optimize the use of this technology and the digital data that is produced. Farmers don’t have time for training programs. They need easy-to-understand, foolproof software and hardware.
Bekele said the infrastructure bill, which passed in the Senate, “will lower the cost of connectivity for rural America, but it won’t be the total solution. About $ 65 million will be used to attempt to connect 40 to 60 million homes currently without connectivity, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Krambeer added that state governments can also allocate resources to extend broadband to rural citizens of the state. He pointed out that although optical fiber is the best, long-term fixed wire or satellite dish can be used to connect the most people. Then the states and the federal government can go further to find the funds necessary to bring everyone to fiber optic connections.
The cost issue included how the costs of developing and implementing digital technology should be shared. There are different types of data collected, and some goes to farmers while some goes to processors, some to distributors and some to consumers. Then there is the cost of learning to use the technology and training workers to use it. The more intuitive the software, the less costly to implement for the farmer. To the same extent, however, the more user-friendly the software, the more expensive it is for the developer. Adapting the software and training everyone in its use requires a significant investment in staff and time.
And that’s where Teddy Bekele explained a new solution implemented by Land O’Lakes.
They recruit talented college graduates who may not be familiar with agriculture but very comfortable with software development. Land O’Lakes offers young people an opportunity to impact food production and help farmers thrive, and young people are embracing this opportunity.
This means that farmers and agriculturalists can tell software developers what they need, and these young programmers can produce user-friendly software that does what the farmer and the processor need – faster and more. lower cost than in the past.
Ease of use and reliability are the keys to the usefulness of software to farmers.
The future of agriculture lies in technological advancements, and farmers remain involved at every stage of digital developments.