Technology helps farmers increase output, lower input costs

farm-droughtFrom big data to the agricultural drones that can gather that information, farmers are investing in technology to improve their operations.

“The big data movement—and the innovative technologies and analytics it yields—could lead to at least as much change in agriculture as the Green Revolution and the adoption of biotechnology did,” Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst recently told the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee. “Farmers are reporting higher yields, fewer inputs, more efficiency and higher profits thanks to technology.”

That’s why drones have become such a hot topic in agricultural circles. The technology could potentially increase a farmer’s revenue by $10 per acre according to a recent study, said Darryl Jenkins, chairman of the American Aviation Institute. He is the keynote speaker at this year’s Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention in Norfolk. OnDec. 1 Jenkins will talk about the economic viability of using commercial drones in precision agriculture.

It’s unknown whether the use of commercial drones in Virginia agriculture will be economically beneficial, Jenkins said, but he predicts farmers with larger acreage who already are already using tractors with GPS will benefit the most. “I’m pretty sure no one will ever use this technology on hay fields,” he said. But farmers growing higher-value row crops might be able to improve their bottom lines with data images collected by commercial drones.

“There will be drones with on-board sensors that will be able to monitor crop conditions for pests, fertility, drought stress and even crop maturity,” said Tony Banks, VFBF commodity marketing specialist. “With the right software, farmers will be able to use the technology to manage their crops and even plan for future crops.”

Along with the visible technology of drones are the less-visible results of biotechnology. Genetically modified crops enable farmers to grow more crops on less land, helping to meet the nutritional needs of an ever-growing population.

In Hawaii, genetically modified papaya seeds saved the state’s papaya farmers, according to Joni Kamiya, whose three-generation family farm has been growing papayas since the 1960s. She said until the GM variety was approved, the native fruit was under constant threat of extinction from a virus that couldn’t be controlled with pesticides.

“The virus became more prevalent as time went by,” Kamiya said. “No matter what farmers tried, the papaya ringspot disease ravaged fields across our state.”

Then a genetically modified plant was created that stopped the virus. “GM papayas saved our businesses and helped preserve our vibrant ecosystem,” Kamiya said.

Other ag technology is helping farmers improve yields, cut production costs and increase productivity. In the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2016 Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, four of the top 10 finalist teams have ag technology entries. The challenge provides opportunities for individuals to showcase business innovations being developed in rural America.

Challenge entries include X-ray technology to inventory flowing grain in real time and a mobile customer support platform for crop farmers.

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