By Sandy K. Johnson
When Keith Gingerich works his fields of grain in central Illinois, his tractor cab is a movable high-tech office.
With a smartphone and computer tablet, he uses technology to drive his equipment and plant with precision; tap satellites and remote sensors to check on moisture and nitrogen levels in fields far away; and analyze data to pinpoint applications of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers where it’s needed.
There is a finite amount of farmland in the United States (roughly 450 million acres), which means the declining number of farmers needs to produce more per acre (or per animal) to feed a growing population. Technology is one key.
It’s practically a necessity for a farmer like Gingerich, a millennial whose family farms 10,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat across seven counties.
Gingerich was one of three farmers who described their profession to National Press Foundation journalists.
Scott Sink of Blacksburg, Virginia, 38, grew up on a five-generation dairy farm. He still raises cattle but has shifted his focus to produce – primarily pumpkins and sweet corn – that help stock the Hethwood Market. Through his retail store, Sink sells prepared meals, market baskets of food and catering – all emphasizing his own home-grown products and those from 16 other farms. He uses social media to market his goods, and relies on technology to help him track everything from drip irrigation to precisely measured catering. “Technology’s our new frontier,” Sink said.
Kristen Nickerson is a sixth-generation farmer on a 3,000-acre grain and swine farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Technology plays a big role in managing 650 sows and their offspring. Her family has made sausage for sale since the Depression and recently expanded its farm-to-table Langenfelder Pork brand to sell to mid-Atlantic restaurants. Best seller? Bacon (of course). She hopes the expansion will create enough jobs to allow another generation to keep farming.