Farmers seek advances for crops

Any business man on Main Street or industrial plant owner will use new technology if it improves his efficiency and helps his business make a profit.

Local farmers are the same. They are business people and want to operate as efficiently as they can in order to make a reasonable profit and family living.

In so many ways, farmers are much like any business person on Main Street or who has a small manufacturing operation. They have to look at the latest technology to see if it fits their business, helps them produce an essential product and if it can improve their profit line.

Increases in farm efficiency over the years indicate they have done a good job of using new information, equipment and improved products.

For example, no-till cultivation of crops, used locally, has become widely adopted in recent years. No-till means that few trips over the field have been needed to get the soil ready for planting the seeds. Using a tillage tool to stir up the soil and a special planter allows a farmer to be more efficient in planting crops.

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has reported some of the benefits of no-till. They found that corn grown using no-till practices sequestered far more carbon than was previously known.

The study was done at the University of Nebraska’s Agricultural Research and Development Center. It found that continuous no-till production of corn put carbon in the soil as deep as 59 inches. Earlier studies missed more than 50 percent of the increased soil carbon. They studied soil depths of less than 11 inches.

In fact, the USDA studies found an average increase of roughly 1.2 tons of carbon an acre. This suggests more studies are needed to more accurately show the benefits of no-till corn production.

Since a considerable amount of corn is used in making ethanol, questions are often raised about using the crop for this purpose. Another recent study by the U.S. Department of energy indicates that the use of biofuels, such as ethanol, have reduced oil prices, decreased crude oil imports and increased our gross domestic product with only a small impact on food prices and land use.

An interesting study was recently reported from Brazil that showed the benefits of biotechnology in that country. The study showed that farmers had an economic benefit of more than $18 billion in recent years using genetically modified seeds.

From another study, they found that water use was reduced 27.8 billion liters, enough to meet the water needs of 634,400 people over a 10 year period. Diesel fuel use was reduced substantially and carbon dioxide emissions were cut equal to preserving 4.5 million trees.

Not only have there been the environmental benefits but there are direct benefits to the use of new technology to those of us who like to find an adequate food supply on grocery shelves. Our food costs have been lower, the various oils we like are healthier and we have more protein readily available.

Family farmers have benefited by using less fuel to raise their crops, increasing yields by up to 50 percent, and having greater protection from weeds, insects and diseases. New seeds have also produced crops more drought and heat tolerant.

While these are direct farmer benefits, they indirectly benefit all of us, as does the use of all technology on the farm that improves efficiency and helps keep our grocery store shelves full of food.

As does any good business person, family farmers have to look at ways to continually improve their efficiency.

Parker is an independent agricultural writer.