Benjamin Franklin once said only two things in life are certain, death and taxes. I’d like to submit my opinion and add “technological advancements in agriculture” as a third certainty in life—at least for us in agriculture. The past 20 years have brought about advancements in agriculture that our forefathers could have never imagined.
The very thought of being able to plant a single seed by mechanical means in a precise spot would boggle the mind of Mr. Franklin. Our ability to control seed spacing, population and pressure on the planter on the fly is becoming the norm in planting corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops across North America.
MAJOR CHANGES IN TWO DECADES
Advancements in consulting have also changed in the past 21 years since I was a crop scout in south central Nebraska. The consultant I worked for supplied the maps, a pickup and a two-way radio to get around. For record keeping, we were supplied with a stack of carbon copy reports, some pens and a NebGuide for reference. Nothing fancy. It’s just the way it had been done since consulting’s advent as a career.
In 2019, many consultants like me use software for recording field notes. We’re using software to create a grower’s crop plan, scouting fields with a mobile device, uploading data to the cloud and emailing the report and recommendations to the grower, and we do all of this without a pen ever touching paper. With the very same device and software, a scout can make his or her way from field to field utilizing GPS. That completely negates the need for paper maps and the two-way radio to let the boss know they’re yet again lost for the third time this week.
Using GPS and the advancements made in variable-rate technology, many consultants have made the transition from composite sampling to grid sampling, zone sampling or both. With these technologies, we offer to the grower the ability to properly and efficiently place the seed and fertilizer we recommend.
POISED FOR THE FUTURE
So what do technological advancements mean to the future consultant?
First, I don’t think anything will completely replace boots on the ground; however, drones have given consultants the ability to give a bird’s eye view of our fields and take far more than just pretty pictures from the sky.
Using color, NIR and NDVI imagery, we can reasonably determine crop health, vigor and the growth stage in a snapshot of time. With advancements in the cameras we can attach to our drones, we will soon be able to scout fields from a distance and then turn our attention to the areas in a field that were tagged as abnormal. This will save us time and resources.
Researchers at universities and private industry are working on robotic methods of weed removal by using micro applications of an herbicide or a mechanical removal tool. This technology could be used to dispatch a team of robots to apply fertilizer to areas of a field that are deficient in nitrogen, for instance. We could also monitor the field for further adjustments in fertility or additional insecticide or herbicide needs long after we walk or drive the field. The ability of the current technology doesn’t seem to make these ideas as far-fetched.
Boots on the ground have been and will be a major selling point to our growers. However, in this ever-changing world of technology, our growers will need us to assist them with deployment of technology on their farms—whether it is from our office, our pickup or the middle of the field.