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Published May 04 2012

Farming in the digital age

The nostalgic image of grandpa putt-putting along on an old iron-seat tractor just doesn’t fit anymore.

“It’s very high-tech, and it keeps advancing,” said Matt Grove, precision products specialist with RDO Equipment Co. in Kindred, N.D.

From in-cab touch-screen interfacing and Bluetooth communication to agri-focused cellphone apps, here’s a look at what you might find Old McDonald using nowadays.

Growing Degree Days

Farmer Brown doesn’t need to hop in the pickup to check on the maturity of his crops these days. The Growing Degree Days smartphone app from Farm Progress taps into weather data, and, based on the type of crop planted, measures its maturity.

Farmers know how important that is. Applying pesticides and fertilizer at the right time can make a difference, said John Nowatzki, an agriculture machine systems specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

GreenStar 3 2630

The GS 3 2630 touch-screen display unit from John Deere puts a lot of power at the fingertips of tractor operators. It can interface with a mounted global positioning satellite receiver, allowing farmers to record what seed, fertilizer and pesticides they’re putting in the field and where. It can control planter functions, differential and speed, and gather elevation information for drainage trenching.

Farmers can also use the display to set up and control John Deere’s AutoTrak system, which auto-steers their tractors. It can be set to follow straight rows or curves – handy when farming along a winding waterway.

With the 2630, farmers can also use section controls to automatically shut off a section of a sprayer or planter to avoid doubling up on an area.

Livestock genetics

With advances in genetics, farmers can tell a lot about their livestock by sending hair or tissue samples to a lab. For example, they can find out if an animal is genetically predisposed to efficiently convert feed into beef, “which gets to be pretty important in terms of overall profitability,” said Carl Dahlen, a beef cattle specialist with the NDSU Extension Service.

They can also get information on the growth rate, reproduction rate and the quality of meat built into an animal’s genetic make-up.

SoilWeb smartphone

SoilWeb can tap into soil survey data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Service. Using the GPS functionality on the phone, the app can identify and provide information about the farm land.

Soil has different characteristics, so knowing the soil type can help farmers determine if the land they’re considering renting is priced right.

Farmers can also vary their rate of fertilizer application based upon potential yield, and the app can help them determine what crops are best suited to a given field.

That’s pretty advanced information in the palm of the farmer’s hand. As Nowatzki said, farmers are using smartphone technology, and they’re using it for more than making calls and checking email.

Roughage intake

The NDSU Beef Research Complex uses a research tool known as Roughage Intake Control System to measure how much, how frequently and how long individual cows eat. Food is placed in a series of individual feeders. A cow pokes its head into the feeder, and the unit records the identity of the cow with a radio frequency identification in its ear. The RIC measures the food eaten and associates that info with the cow.

Tru-Test scale head

The Tru-Test XR 300 scale head at NDSU’s Beef Research Complex works with a cattle scale. It can store and display information about the weight of each animal and what treatments it may have undergone.

The unit is Bluetooth-equipped, and can communicate wirelessly with a device that reads the animal’s radio frequency ID.

By tracking weight, the system helps farmers identify better-performing animals so they can build better herds, Dahlen said. The weight information can also be used to spot health issues.


Readers can reach Forum reporter J. Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734