When we look around northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, we may not recognize the amount and kinds of agriculture technology used on local farms. Much more than many of us realize and use of that technology is essential to keeping food on our table.
Dan Keep, agronomist for Western Reserve Farm Cooperative, keeps his eye on what is happening in our area with spring planting coming up in a few weeks. He says most farmers have ordered their corn and soybean seed for spring planting. And many of them also have their fertilizer ordered.
Local farmers use a lot of technology when it comes to buying both corn and soybean seed. Dan says many of them are using what is called "triple stack" seed. This is seed that has built in resistance to the insects corn borer and root worm and to the herbicide Roundup. Thus the term "triple stack." Using these seeds can increase corn yields by as much as 15 bushels an acre.
"Smart stack" is a newer seed also available but is very expensive. It has as many as six different traits that provide resistance to different insects and diseases. As it becomes more available, smart stack seed should drop in price.
Research is being done on drought resistant varieties of corn. Some progress has already been made, allowing growers in the dryer areas of the Dakotas and other parts of the west to greatly increase corn yields.
In the United States last year, the average corn yield was 160 bushels an acre. One seed company is shooting for yields of up to 300 bushels by 2030. This is an ambitious goal and will take some cooperation from the weather man to provide the good weather needed for that kind of yield.
In soybeans, the genes have been changed to add what is called "yield genes." These are seed traits that help increase yields of the beans. Research has also developed a seed that has built in resistance to the soybean aphid, a serious pest. More studies are being done to decide if this seed is effective in economically managing this aphid.
All this shows the importance of agriculture technology in putting food on our table but it is technology we can't really see until crops are harvested.
When we look back at the history of our country, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, most of our ancestors were on small farms trying to live on a subsistence kind of agriculture. Much of the farm work was done with horses and a lot of just plain hard work. Farm incomes didn't allow for many luxuries or things we consider essential. And each farmer produced enough for his family and maybe two or three others.
Then look at today's farmers. They are less than 2 percent of our population and produce enough to adequately feed our nation and a large part of the rest of the world.
Three major technologies made these dramatic improvements possible with a fourth one more recent. These include the development of hybrid corn that greatly increased corn production. Then came the use of fertilizers to increase yields and the third was invention of the tractor and other labor saving farm equipment. More recent advances are the ability to "splice" genes making seed improvement much faster.
Invention of the tractor allowed farmers to farm many more acres and harvest more crops. And they also allowed farmers to get rid of their horses that needed precious land for crops to feed them. This opened up thousands more acres of cropland for food production.
Agriculture that includes biotechnology is essential, along with the hard work and innovative farmers we have, if we are going to continue to fill our grocery stores with food.