My High-Tech Redneck…

There are certainly times when Matt and I use a scoop shovel and a pitchfork as depicted by the main picture in the Business Week article.  However, our farm is no longer as labor intensive as it was in Matt’s grandpa and Archie’s generation.  Machinery and electronic innovation has been prolific over the past 50 years, and this has vastly improved the efficiency of farming.

The early morning sun on one of our corn fields. One of our irrigation pivots is watering the field and can be seen in the background…

I fondly refer to my husband as my high-tech redneck.  It blows my mind when he sits in our living room and turns his irrigation pivots on with his cell phone.

Irrigation pivots are huge sprinklers that move in a circle to irrigate crop ground.  One pivot can irrigate about 140 acres…

Additionally, Matt’s phone is set to automatically call him when a pivot stops working or malfunctions.  The girls laugh that daddy’s girlfriend (the irrigation pivot) calls in the middle of the night and daddy has to go out and see her to fix the problem.

While we still lay pipe to irrigate about 60% of our corn and soy bean acres, the creation of central pivots has eased the labor and increased the efficiency on the other 40% our irrigated farm acres.  Additionally, Matt has surge valves on several of the farms that we still gravity irrigate with pipe.  These valves switch the water periodically between two different sets of gates so that the water is spread more evenly across the field as the water flows from one end of the field to another.

Irrigation pipe that waters one of our corn fields using gravity and the natural slope of the field…These pipes have gates that you can open and close to determine water flow.

Matt took technology one step further this summer with the addition of soil moisture probes on two of our fields.  These probes report electronically on the moisture in the soil so that we only water the crops when they are deficient.  The soil moisture probes have a cellular phone component that sends data to a website every 15 minutes relating the moisture level in the soil.  Matt then accesses moisture graphs via the internet to determine the amount of irrigation (water) needed to grow the crop.

Moisture Sensor Graphs

Raising crops and growing food in 2012 involves a beautiful blend of old school hard work and physical labor and new technology. This allows for increased efficiency and reduces the environmental footprint of that food.

Matt with our favorite 7 year old continuing the tradition…

Matt laughs that he is glad that our farm will never go back to 40 acres and a mule.  I smile every time that we are able to use new technology to protect our farm’s natural resources.  I was never able to meet Matt’s grandpa, but I can envision Burky smiling down from heaven as Matt and I use new science to take our family’s farm into the next generation!


Filed under Farming, General

17 responses to “My High-Tech Redneck…

  1. Bill

    That’s cool. I like the chart. I think there are probes for beef, too. But, I think they have to be in the oven first.

    • Bill,

      Glad that you liked the chart. Yes, there are temperature probes for beef that you should use on hamburger to make sure that you cook it properly!

      Take care,

  2. Ha! When the hog barns call Dustin in the middle of the night (as they do frequently) I’m going to start referring to them as his girlfriend. When we first started dating I thought that it was an actual person in the barn calling him – I couldn’t understand how a barn could call someone!

  3. Jim Ingram

    Bill and Anne — have you seen the RFID devices that not only respond with the animal’s unique ID number when scanned, but also give the temperature? They’re implanted under the skin at the neck or shoulder. They’re about the size of a grain of rice. This PDF ( talks about application for horses, but we’ve received samples intended for cattle where I work.

    • Hi Jim,

      Yes, I have read about them. The technology also exists to track an animal’s position in the home pen so that you can make sure that he is visiting the water tank and the feed bunk an appropriate number of times each day (a good indicator for animal health). It is amazing all of the tools that electronic innovation gives to us!

      Thanks for adding to the conversation!

    • Bill


      A chip under the skin? Imagine if we did that to prison inmates or common citizens? But a horse? It doesn’t make the news. I’ve been reading about RFID chips used for other industries, and I had some quick thoughts about its use with livestock. Your link directs to the use of the product for equestrian purposes. In that industry, theft is probably a concern since some of those animals can fetch six figures or more at market. Having a chip placed under the skin of an animal makes a lot of sense, especially in horse racing.

      But, I have a different take on it for cattle. I have two points.

      First, it would probably be easier to place the chip directly on the bovine’s ear tag than have a finisher like Anne stick a bunch of sharp things into a herd of very heavy animals. Having the chip pre-assigned to the tag would probably give Anne near zero extra workload since either Anne or the rancher already has to tag them. RFID certainly works to her advantage for tracking her source verified beef. Plus, it does not put holes in her product or risk an infection (although inflection might not be much of an issue.)

      Additionally, Anne could then use RFID tech to track down her beef when they escape and go on a rampage. It would be interesting to see where her missing cattle end up. (That would be a fun post!)

      Second, a bovine, unlike a horse, is a food source. I’m not too keen on even the remotest possibility of eating an RFID chip. Nor would I want to find a chip in my leather goods or other products. I’m saying this as a consumer. A chip on the ear tag could be easily discarded as normal, although Anne has never discussed what happens to ear tags at the slaughter house. I know she is holding out. Maybe one day… we’ll get that post. Cross your fingers.

      Thanks, Jim!


  4. Jim

    All good points, Bill. We don’t use them, probably for the very reasons you cite plus I suspect they’re way to expensive. About putting the sensor in the ear tag, I think that’s already available, But I don’t think it would give a true indication of the animal’s internal temperature, especially if the tag is put in too far toward the end of the ear. Besides, it’s my guess that producers already have other visual indicators of illness that would cause an elevated temperature, which makes this kind of superfluous. Anyway, my contribution was a knee-jerk reaction to your original comment about the beef needing to be in the oven first to take its temperature. Always appreciate your sense of humor! 😀

    • Bill


      Of course. I disconnected from the original context. An RFID tag would be helpful as a beef probe. I agree that the ear wouldn’t work. I also agree that I don’t know how much a finisher like Anne could benefit from an internal RFID probe is she out sending time with her cattle anyway. I’m sure she knows if a bovine is sick at this point. She would not need a computer.

      However, an RFID tag might be programed to determine what is causing the animal to be sick so Anne can administer the right treatment. I don’t know how much value it would be to her or if the cost of the system would be a factor.

      Maybe RFID can be administered ONLY when an animal is sick? Then, Anne receives feedback and can use the right treatment? That would keep costs down AND allow Anne to use the right treatment without a lot of trial/error or guessing.

      I’m a big fan of Anne, Jim. If you want humor, I would love to share a funny story about a early connection between Anne and a herd of bovines. It involves the words ‘dive bomb.’ It occurred around Anne’s junior or senior year in high school.


      • Jim

        Carol and I are big fans, too, Bill. I’d love to hear the funny story — as long as Anne approves, anyway!

      • I will try to write this silly story about Anne and bovines over the weekend. I think it is the only Pre-Burkeholder bovine story that I know. The story is in good taste. I’m kinda surprised Anne doesn’t remember, since I have the image burned into my memory. (No fear, Anne. I’ll send it to you via email or Facebook. You can have final say. Just don’t shoot some summertime Kool-aid out your nose when you read it.)

      • Bill,

        In terms of evaluating calf sickness (or the reason behind it), I think that the visual eye of a good care-giver is more effective than any sort of a probe.

        In terms of your story–you are free to share at any time as long you are kind to me 🙂


  5. Austin

    It’s always cool to see how efficient and productive we as farmers can become while still staying true to the labor and hard working roots the industry was founded upon–and have fun with the whole deal!!! Thanks for posting and hope the irrigation technology continues to work for you 🙂

    • Austin:

      Thank you for your kind words. Tonight, we are blessed enough to have natural irrigation falling from the sky! That is good news as we have been without rain for quite a while now. My “high tech redneck” is smiling and his crops are thankful too.


  6. jamie

    well we need to get you guys switched over to John Deere instead of the 13 letter manure spreaders

    • Hi Jamie,

      We actually used to run quite a bit of John Deere equipment. We got frustrated with the service offered at the local dealership and changed “colors” with our equipment.


  7. Pingback: Environmental Sustainability: How do I care? | Feed Yard Foodie

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