Farmer Iron
Labor Changes Still Drive Innovation

Labor Changes Still Drive Innovation

From bigger combines to higher tech tools being deployed on farms, there is an underlying driver at work.

In the 1920s more than 30% of the US population lived and worked on farms. The days were filled with hard labor and there was plenty to go around. Yet there were some new technologies on the rise as iron started replacing true horsepower. When it became possible for a single person to pull a four-bottom plow without horses and cover more acres in a day, a farmer could think of having more acres.

Covering more ground in less time drives a lot of today's innovations.

Then came the Depression, which forced many off the farm - and some will recall the Depression started on the farm in the 1920s long before stockbrokers took their leaps in October of 1929. This economic change forced many to leave the farm and head to town in hopes of finding work, and once gone they were unlikely to return.

Why the history lesson? The same changing labor forces are still at work in agriculture today. Farmers are finding the need to do more with less help and that means bigger machines, and a rising interest in automation. New Holland recently entered the Class 10 combine party with their new CR10.90 Elevation machine, and that's just one example.

The changing labor force opened the market for Vermeer to introduce a commercially successful large round baler. It drives John Deere and Case IH to higher horsepower tractors so one person can cover the same acres in a day that two, or even three, did just a decade ago.

Automation will be the 'next big thing' whether automated tractors - yes Kinze is having success there - or even specialized robots doing specific tasks. That make take a few more years to catch on but talk with any farmer running more than 5,000 acres and you find an understanding of the power of robotizing equipment.

Which brings me to unmanned aerial vehicles. The Precision Aerial Ag Show held it's first-ever event in Decatur, Ill. at Progress City USA. Sure, the live demos of equipment flying was very interesting, but conversations with vendors and farmers brought some interesting thoughts to mind.

With a UAV you don't have to scout all your field. Sure you photograph them but that doesn't mean you have to head out and check them. You know what's wrong - or at least that you have a problem - and can direct your efforts on those areas. In some ways the images collected are still telling what you already know if you've been doing yield maps for years, but eventually more multispectral tools will offer even more information.

But consider the crop consultant who may be responsible for 40,000 acres now. With UAV technology, once the Federal Aviation Administration makes a ruling on commercial use, that same consultant can cover a lot more acres and help more farmers. If the number of consultants slides, the acres will still be covered because those remaining consultants will be more efficient with the UAV.

As for FAA, the frustrations are real. The ruling may not arrive until well into 2015 - or to be more precise the ruling might come late this year, but still must be open to a comment period of 30 to 60 days, and then the agency still has 12 to 20 months to come up with the final rule. Interestingly it sounds backwards, a government agency should be on the side of creating new businesses, and while FAA may protest that it is is in favor of the tech, right now it doesn't feel like it.

Being more efficient is what farming is all about.

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