Technology moves agriculture forward

Lancaster County is known for its agriculture. People both locally and out of state benefit from the work of our agriculturalists, as each farm feeds about 144 people.

There are 5,462 farms here in Lancaster County, and our farmland accounts for 68% of our usable surface area. But nationwide, by comparison, the numbers are grim, and they’re getting worse with each passing generation. Farmers and ranchers make up less than 2% of the U.S. population.

I am an active, four-year member of Garden Spot High School’s FFA program. I am curious how we might use the power of modern technology to positively impact farmers, in order to ensure that their crucial services extend into future generations.

Katie Ranck, my agriculture teacher, says, “With a growing population and a smaller number of farmers, we require more efficient ways to produce and preserve food and natural resources. Technology is the tool that will allow us to achieve this.”

It’s not surprising then that many traditional farms in Lancaster County are turning to modern technology to increase productivity and manage resources. Today’s farmers are relying on automation (such as robots and drones) and livestock technology (such as automated milking systems).

Farm automation can now tackle everything from seeding and weeding to harvesting, which helps farmers cope with labor shortages. It is also helping to improve worker safety. Additionally, automation provides greater control over processing, storing and distributing products, which helps keep prices lower for consumers.

One of the things that most interests me is the advancement in GPS and geographic information systems, which allows for self-driving tractors. One of their main benefits is that they increase the accuracy of planting, which results in a higher crop yield.

Every year, our FFA chapter holds a safe-driving tractor competition, and this year I was excited to participate. I think driverless tractors represent the future of farming in Lancaster County and across the country.

Earlier this year, Forbes ran an article about driverless tractors and how they use computer vision, data science and algorithms “to enable farmers to make informed decisions. The platform is capable of monitoring fields and finding … weeds, nutrient deficiencies, disease or insect infestations, water damage and equipment issues.”

By incorporating the latest technology, farmers can work smarter not harder. Traditional farms are moving out, and technological farms are moving in. Agriculture has definitely joined the technology era.