❝ It used to be that farming was an occupation that relied on gut instinct. Information about the land was passed from generation to generation like an heirloom. “When my grandpa started in the late ‘20s or ‘30s, you needed a good work ethic and a strong back,” says Ron Haase, a farmer who, with his brother, operates a 1,200 acre corn and soybean farm 90 miles south of Chicago.
Things have changed quite a bit since Haase took over the family farm in the mid 1990s. Like health care, transportation, and plenty of other industries before it, agriculture is currently undergoing a radical transformation. In recent years, farmers have begun embracing advanced technologies like sensors, satellite imagery, GPS, and big data analytics to build connected farms that are as efficient, productive, and as profitable as possible. Some people call the new, technologically-enabled era of farming Ag 3.0, a movement that centers around the idea that every operation on the farm should be tracked, from soil moisture to the number of seeds planted to precise read-outs on crop yields.
❝ Since Haase began using sensors to track yield data in the early 2000s, nearly all of his operations have evolved to rely on some form of data gathering. “In some form or another the data’s being used to make the decisions,” he says. His planters track what types of seeds are planted where, his combines precisely measure yield data during harvest, and every aspect of his tractor — from fuel usage to location to how long it’s been running — is measured to ensure efficiency.
All this data is pushed automatically to cloud-based software, which means Haase no longer has to sit in front of a computer and enter the data himself after a long day of work. As a result, Haase says he’s cut his planting time down from nearly a week to three days and now has more time for his family.
❝ Thanks to forward-thinking farmers like Haase, Ag tech has become big business. In 2015, investments in farming technology reached $4.6 billion. Companies across the farming industry are investing in the trend in the form of cloud-based software that analyzes different variables like soil moisture, sunlight, climate, nitrogen and pests. This software helps farmers determine where and what kind of seeds they should plant the next year to reap a maximum yield.
But while sensors might be the backbone of the connected farm, it’s the ability to parse the data itself that’s revolutionizing the way farmers work and make a living…
The article ends with the old saw, “farming isn’t a lifestyle; it’s a business”. That wasn’t news 10 centuries ago. And as it always has been, the farmer’s choice – beyond subsistence farming – how much do you wish to reorder and organize your life and work to make more money. Or not?
The family farms owned by my Canadian kin haven’t changed in size in over a century. Same root crops. Soil temperature useful as ever and you don’t have to spend half a day or so sticking a probe into the ground by hand.
Point remains the same one made by Farmer Haase up top of the article. More data and the ability to analyze that data easily has cut some of his tasks in half or better. He can use that time to work at growing, expanding his business – or he can spend more time with his family. I know which I’d choose.