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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!