I have been involved in crop consulting for more than 20 years. In that relatively short time, I have seen dramatic changes in the adoption of technology in agriculture. From the planting of Bt and herbicide-tolerant crops to the use of precision agriculture technology to the way I collect data and report it to my growers, agriculture has become a technology rich industry. However, I often find myself asking, “Do we really need all this technology?”
I certainly have growers that continue to be successful while still growing crops the “oldfashioned way,” without the use of herbicidetolerant crops or without the aid of precision ag technology. With widespread glyphosate resistance, growers are now faced with going back to many of these old techniques to control weeds. So, growers are questioning the value of these herbicide-tolerant crops. I certainly contend that we continue to need these herbicide-tolerant crops and need to adopt some of these old techniques to be more ef ective in controlling resistant weeds.
In my area, the adoption of herbicide-tolerant crops and precision agriculture has allowed growers to adopt many conservation techniques, such as no till, minimum till and strip till. All of these techniques help us to conserve water and reduce soil erosion. It is certainly difficult to put a dollar value on these benefits, but producers realize that many changes must be made to ensure the sustainability of agriculture for future generations.
There is no doubt that the major limiting factor to the growth of many businesses associated with agriculture is the availability of reliable labor. Precision agriculture has definitely increased efficiency and allowed growers to farm more acres with significantly less labor. Over the past 20 years, I have seen many growers double their operations while reducing their full-time labor. For my business, I have adapted the use of computers and hand-held devices to record data and send reports to growers. Such technology puts data at my finger tips and allows me to be much more efficient at my job as well.
The ability to easily conduct on-farm trials through the use of precision agriculture has been a great benefit to producers. With the use of yield monitors, growers can easily test new hybrids, seeding rates, fertilizer rates and evaluate pesticides on their farm. This allows for quicker adoption of new technology by allowing growers to witness the benefits of new products on their own farm.
Many farmers now conduct farm trials before fully adopting new products on a widespread basis. This technology also allows consultants to easily test products on an independent basis and report results to their clients.
There is no doubt that agriculture has come a long way in the past 20 years. The advancements that have been made almost make your head spin. As I look forward to the advancements of the next 20 years, I suspect we have only begun to see the tip of the iceberg as to the improvements that will be made. The answer is absolutely yes that we need technology as we continue to feed a growing population. However, we will also need to rely on many old techniques in combination with new technologies in order to be successful and ensure agriculture remains sustainable.