When most people think of a farmer, they think of an idealistic pasture, dotted with cattle that are peacefully grazing as a humble family picks fresh fruits and vegetables from their fields.
Prior to World War II, this might have very well been the case. But as technological advances made their way to the agriculture industry, farmers quickly began spending less time tending fields and herding cattle, and more time calibrating various pieces of equipment and analyzing data.
This stereotypical view of a grower and the farm directly conflicts with what we know to be true—that our food isn’t necessarily coming from a pastoral farmer. This dichotomy leads us to believe a variety of things that are not necessarily true.
However, with the proper resources, we can all remain better informed about how our food is grown, where it comes from and what all those different labels actually mean.
Terry Benefield, Highland’s Director of Grower Services, provides us with answers to some of the most frequently asked questions farmers are faced with every day:
What are the common misconceptions that you see from consumers about produce?
During my years in agriculture, I’ve been in numerous conversations where people truly believe that farmers will do anything or use anything in their fields to produce a crop with no regard to the soil, surrounding environments or the end consumer. All of these things are the very lifeline that has sustained their families for generations.
If this were the case, I have a hard time believing these same farmers would allow their children to consume that very same produce, along with living and working on the land in which they thoughtlessly “harm” on a daily basis.
The modern agri-business owner works hard to find the methods that are the most efficient, precise and have the least environmental impact in every decision they make, all the while complying with the strict regulatory standards set by numerous local, state and federal agencies.
For the most part, farmers truly are the original “environmentalists”!
What does "organic produce" really mean?
Organic farmers, ranchers, and food processors follow a defined set of standards to produce organic food and fiber. Congress described general organic principles in the Organic Foods Production Act, and the USDA defines specific organic standards. These standards cover the product from farm to table, including soil and water quality, pest control, livestock practices, and rules for food additives.
What this means is that organic growers do not have the same synthetically blended products for fighting disease and pest pressures that conventional growers have. Fertilizers must come from a natural source of nitrogen, such as fish emulsion, animal bone and shellfish meal, among others. They must also use preventative, rather than corrective, methods in controlling pests and disease pressures.
What does it take to grow organically?
Biological pesticides and predator-type pests are used, which is basically when a good pest (predator) essentially preys on a crop-damaging pest.
When you’re a certified organic grower, you have limited options when it comes to treating pests and diseases. You must be proactive in using preventative methods before damage occurs, rather than addressing an issue after it’s discovered.
What precautions should I take, if any, against pesticides and herbicides?
Whether it is grown organically or conventionally, you should always take precautionary measures by washing all produce consumed.
Lots of consumers still see the farmer as the traditional, "rake-in-hand," "on-the-tractor-all-day" grower. What new technologies or tactics are being used more commonly that consumers may not be aware of?
Nearly 98% of American farms are family businesses; so many family members will be managing different areas of the business. Lately, we have been seeing family members take on the role of Precision Ag Manager.
We are now seeing numerous millennial-age family members being responsible for the scheduling of imagery and analytics for their crops. They are also the ones that use the software to precisely manage their crops and make decisions about pesticide and water, along with nutritional usage. Rare are the days where you’ll find only the family patriarch wearing the overalls and straw hat doing all the chores.
How has technology changed the life of the American farmer?
We have seen a rise in the use of more precise equipment, such as real-time soil-moisture monitors. These probes read the moisture and nutrient content throughout various depths of the soil column in real time, and upload the readings via charts, graphs and data sheets to a dashboard.
This gives the grower the ability to better regulate the water and nutrients by keeping these crucial elements in the root zone, while preventing runoff to surrounding areas from over irrigating. Nutrients especially, can be money wasted when it’s driven below the root zone.
Prior to using tools such as these, they were watering by eye and feel. Now farmers are using less water and nutrients, all the while lessening their environmental footprint.
Precision agriculture—how do you define what it is?
There is a lot of technology used to make modern agriculture more efficient. For example, GPS computer-guided tractors and harvesters, along with variable rate-fertilizer spreaders and chemical sprayers for more precise and efficient applications.
Other geo-referenced site-specific practices may include:
- Soil sample collection and testing, along with soil mapping for the purpose of a more specialized and precise fertilizer application based off these results.
- Aerial imagery comparing flight-to-flight rate of change, along with hot-spot analysis and crop-counting capabilities.
- Crop-yield data collection with an overlay of historical soil and fertilizer maps, giving the grower the ability to create predictability models for future crops.
Each of these geo-referenced data layers also helps subdivide a large field area into smaller management zones. Using these smaller zones reduces waste while increasing production potential.
By studying these factors and using precision agriculture, farmers are able to produce more food on less land at a reduced cost.
If you’re an agricultural business owner interested in implementing precision agriculture techniques on your farm, contact Highland Precision Ag online today.