“In a different scope of technology on the farm, with no computers or anything, there are seed technology and the development of different pest management strategies,” said Mr. Lawrence, the field crops educator. “By developing seed variations and pest management tools that work together, you’re reducing the impact on the crops.”
Mr. Lawrence said that immense amounts of time, money and research go into what is called Integrated Pest Management. IPM isn’t a new concept, but with new variations in seed technology and ever-involving development of herbicides and insecticides, having a fine tuned IPM strategy ensures the best outcome for crops.
“You have to select tools that will be sustainable and environmentally friendly with what seeds you’re planting and crops you’re planning to grow,” Mr. Lawrence said. “If your tools for pest management are wrong, your crops will become resistant to anything they’re treated with and you lose that option of controlling pests.”
All branches of Cornell Cooperative Extension work with Cornell University, Ithaca, and their own networks of vendors, suppliers and farmers to continue their education on everything from what’s new in technology to herd management and maximizing milk production. That combination of information from the school and from vendors and companies gives extension employees the ability to deduce what advice is most helpful for local farmers.
“The agriculture industry does a good job having technical resource people that educate consumers on their products,” Mr. Lawrence said. “Part of our mission at the extension is being an unbiased source of information. We decipher all of the information, make sure there is good research to back up these products and then we give that information to our clients.”
On a small scale, a number of applications for smartphones and tablet computers, like the iPad, have been developed that allow farmers to stay connected, even when standing in the middle of sprawling fields. An application like Evernote syncs documents written on a smartphone with desktop computers, tablets and any other device with Evernote access.
“It used to be that a farmer would walk out in the field, scribbling notes on a dirty piece of paper,” Mr. Buchanan said. “Now they can access information from a handheld device, take notes on animals, enter it into the computer and the app tells them if there is a problem or if other red flags come up. All that technology is there for anyone, big farm or small, to use.”
As with any new technology, agriculture leaders warn, adopting advancements in farm technology can be a lot to handle.
“Some new technologies, if they’re abused or not used correctly, they have adverse effects on the crops and animals, there can be some serious drawbacks,” Mr. Lawrence said.
Knowing what is a good fit for an individual farm is the most effective way to adopt technology.
“If a farm jumps into a tech investment without all the information they need, it might slow business down,” Mr. Lawrence said. “Without that information, they could end up spending money on something that isn’t going to be a good return on investment.”
An important point that Corey Hayes, a farm business educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, makes when advising his clients is that making any investment in new, or even established, technology for a farm business is to start at square one.
“With my clients, I sit down and start basic with pencil and paper,” Mr. Hayes said. “Technology investment can mean a lot of money. Part of our job is educating the farmers and determining if their investments are the right fit for them and for the farm based on its size.”
When making sound business decisions, Mr. Hayes said knowing limitations is key to having long term success. Knowing what will benefit both the business owner and the farm is just as important.
“Don’t go outside of your means,” he said. “We see way too many people go in over their head. Use what will benefit you and spend within your means. You don’t want to waste time on what isn’t important.”
Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Conway, the precision farming specialist, note that advancement in farm technology is, at the least, making farming less back-breaking for current and future generations of farmers throughout the north country.
“Once you get people rolling on the path with one product, it becomes an addiction,” Mr. Conway said. “It opens people’s eyes to what computers and technology can do for them. I had one farmer that told me his 83-year-old father had been out in the fields late, operating a self-steering precision tractor. He called his father up one night at 7 p.m. and asked if everything was OK, because he hadn’t heard from him and he usually could only work until 5 p.m. before turning in for the day. Here he was at 7 p.m., said everything was just fine, he was out in the field having a great time in that new tractor.”
Mr. Lawrence said that a younger generation of farmers may be on the horizon, driven by an interest in technology.
“It’s interesting to think that the technology might bring in new interest, but I guess it really does help get them involved,” Mr. Lawrence said. “Whenever I do something like a career day at a local school, if I mention doing work with iPads, their ears definitely perk up.”
Story by Kyle R. Hayes, associate editor for NNY Business
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