Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Technology is moving to the corn fields

Last summer, I worked at the EPA where I got to know some farmers from the area where I'm from. It was interesting to see how they tended their farms. One man I met with was a firm believer of no-till farming. This means that when the farmers seed the fields, they don't tear up the ground to plant. Without tearing up the topsoil, its less likely to be washed away when it rains. We grow a lot of corn where I'm from and a nutrient rich topsoil is a necessity. Unfortunately, with no-till farming, applying fertilizer in the right spot can be a challenge because the planting rows are hidden underneath what farmers call residue, which is left over plant material from last season's crop.

To make this easier and raise crop yield, farmers started using GPS to track planting rows.

The Global Positioning Satellite network was originally created for the military so that all sorts of military vehicles could track where they were and where they were going. In 1990, the government made the technology open for civilian use. Now it is used in passenger cars, cell phones and even in dog collars to keep track of Fido. (Thanks Case IH!)

But I think the best use of it so far is for farmers. They can appropriately apply fertilizer to the right places. This allows them to use less chemicals and save money while raising crop yield. They can also use it to program their tractors to run on "autopilot." (Thanks DOM!)Another use is for tracking pest outbreaks. A worker can go out into the field, find the pest and put a point in a program that tells the farmer where to apply pesticides.

There is a downfall though. The systems that use GPS are expensive and farmers are not known for their extreme wealth. In spite of this small flaw, I give this use of technology a thumbs up.

Thanks also Mapwatch and Trimble!

Thanks Engineering Works for the picture!

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