Turns out precision agriculture may not be so new after all. In fact, all the bells and whistles of this technology may just be getting us back to where my great grandfather was at more than 80 years ago.
Recently, I came across some old black and white photographs of my great granddad, Elmer Cubbage, of when he was farming the drylands of Colorado during the Dust Bowl days and also the current family farm here in southwest Missouri.
When it came to the land that he farmed he was in touch with it both literally and figuratively. He not only knew tendencies of every acre he farmed but every inch of soil that fit between the fencerows. That’s because he saw it close up as he tilled the land with his team of draft horses or observed the production of every stalk of corn as he picked each ear by hand. He knew exactly which area of field needed more manure from the barn lot and which areas didn’t.
Today, we cover the land with giant iron machines that accomplish in only a few minutes what it took my great granddad from sunup to sundown to do. You could call it blink of the eye farming – doing in seconds what once took hours. But you also know the saying “if you blink you’ll miss it?” I believe that became the case with modern farming – it became more about the acres covered than it did about the agronomy practiced. In our efforts to become more efficient we forgot how to be effective.
The technologies of precision agriculture are focused at getting back to where my great granddad started – treating each acre uniquely in order to be the most effective. With practices like GPS grid soil sampling, variable-rate applications and seeding, remote satellite sensor technologies and combine yield maps we are looking at each acre, each plant in order to manage for higher yields and higher returns per acre.
I’m sure my great granddad Elmer would marvel at the size, complexity and efficiency of today’s modern agricultural machines. But at the same time I’d bet he would crack a smile knowing that as much as things have changed one thing didn’t – the rules of agronomy. Today, the politically correct term for caring for each acre and every plant is called precision agricultural management. I think my great granddad would have simply called it farming!