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High-Tech Cockpit: The Modernization of U.S. Farms

Bowling Green, Ky (July 14, 2020) - Today is the day! You’ve done all you can to prepare. You’ve put in long hours studying and adjusting your plans, monitored progress, and prepared your equipment. There is excitement and anxiety. To start on this mission is really only the beginning; there will be long monotonous days, hours upon hours staring at the same far-off destination, setbacks, and course corrections. But all that being said, you’re excited to settle into your seat. With all systems checked and rechecked, you are ready to go. 

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This seems like a scene from the recent SpaceX launch of the first manned missions in the Dragon capsule. The world watched via livestreams as those astronauts settled into their seats and went through their system checks. Then when all was perfect, they launched toward a far-off destination.

The truth of the matter is, the opening words actually describe the scene from farms all around the world. This scenario typically plays out twice a year for every field and crop that is planted. The preparation, decision making, anxiety, and drama of uncontrollable variables all play out to a lot of excitement as planting and harvesting seasons begin. 

The modern farm has changed a lot in the past few decades, and today if you climb into the cab of almost any piece of agricultural equipment, you’ll be met with an unbelievable level of technological sophistication. Rows of high-resolution monitors, buttons, switches, so on and so forth. You’ll likely find at least three video monitors in a modern tractor during planting season or in a combine during harvest. One of those is fully customizable, allowing the operator to assign various functions to different hydraulic connections, manage GPS, set the cruise, autosteer, and more. Another provides specific information for the tractor’s core functional systems, and then likely another is there to allow the operator to monitor the piece of equipment being used to plant — monitoring each seed, in each row, determining if that spot has already been planted, and how well it’s putting seed into the ground. This doesn’t include a potential tablet being used in concert with the tractor and equipment to interface with farm management systems, and the ubiquitous smartphone that has become such an important piece of technology for all of us.

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All of these systems combine to allow a farm operator the ability to plant hundreds of acres. While farming has never been easy, it’s often been looked at as a career of the past, a blue-color job, but the reality is farming isn’t going away and it has become highly technological. The industry is becoming more and more data-driven. And in order to keep up, producers are having to learn new equipment and technology at unprecedented speeds. The ag community has embraced this, and you’ll find operators young and old alike learning how to use this new technology.

Farming has gone high-tech, and precision agriculture is helping farms be more productive, cutting inputs and increasing outputs. This is bringing greater efficiencies to the market and moving us toward more sustainable food supplies of the future.

In rural America, we are still struggling with providing the connectivity needed to ensure that our technology-laden farms and operators have the ability to perform effectively. Agriculture is as technologically advanced as many other industries in our country, yet there is still a strong misunderstanding among the general populous of the needs in our American fields for connectivity, and a new workforce ready to take agriculture into the next few decades. 

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About the Author: Wes Kerr is the Connected Nation Director of Community Solutions. He helps ensure the implementation of Technology Action Plans developed for communities through Connected Nation’s Connected Community Engagement Program (Connectedsm) and works closely with clients and stakeholders to provide solutions that will help them meet their technology goals.