When technology and farming converge
Monday, April 09, 2018
DEEP IN NEBRASKA’S CORN BELT, family farmer and Costco supplier Scott Wagner is in the cab of his GPS-guided John Deere combine, harvesting the last of his corn crop. He keeps his hands off the wheel—the combine is driving autonomously. It impressively straddles eight rows at a time, removing corn from the stalks, then shucking and shelling it. Once the storage area is full, the press of a button creates a cascade of kernels from the combine into a separate tractor bed being driven alongside Wagner. “My grandfather, when he used to do it, well, he’d have a horse and a little box, and he would [harvest] by hand and throw it in,” says Wagner. “And then all the neighbors would get together [with] this little machine that would shell it.” Automatically harvesting corn isn’t all his combine is doing. Seven different screens blink and flash as they collect all sorts of data points, measuring the productivity of each acre and mapping the topography of his land. These are technologies his grandfather certainly didn’t have. The information will ultimately help Wagner operate more efficiently. It’s the future of farming, because it has to be. Farmers face an ever-expanding global population, labor shortages, environmental challenges, sustainability and food safety concerns, and, of course, the pressure to stay competitive. These issues are felt from the smallest family farm to the largest growing operations. Many growers, however, are turning to technology to help overcome many of these obstacles.