Precision Farming

Precision farming allows a farmer to gather and see information about in real time. 

Precision farming allows a farmer to gather and see information about in real time. 

In the late 1990s the advent of GPS-based location-tracking technology and computer analysis launched an agricultural revolution. U.S. farmers began using the new technology to “see” bigger variations within their fields and animals than they had ever imagined. Information became a new crop of the 21st century, making farmers more efficient and sustainable but increasingly technologically dependent.

Technology Transforms Farming

Corn and soybean farmer Roy Bardole, Rippey, Iowa.

Corn and soybean farmer Roy Bardole, Rippey, Iowa.

Image courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum.

The satellite-based GPS system was first developed by the U.S. Departments of Defense in the 1970s. In the 1990s agricultural engineers began combining on-the-go crop yield readings with GPS tracking to create crop yield maps.

Crop Yield Monitor, 1993

Crop Yield Monitor, 1993

Gift of Ag Leader Technology, Inc.

Al Myers invented an on-the-go crop yield monitor, a major step in making precision farming possible. Spot measuring the harvest gave farmers new information about the strongest and weakest portions of their fields. By linking the yield monitor data to GPS-plotted locations, farmers began creating detailed yield maps.
 
Al Myers worked for six years to develop the crop monitor, working nights and weekends outside of his work at his full-time job. He taught himself electronics and microprocessor programming, and conducted secret field trials on his father’s farm. By 1992 he had perfected his invention, but in his first year he sold only 10 yield monitors. By 1995 he sold 1,500 units.
GPS receiver, 1996.

GPS receiver, 1996.

Gift of the Deere and Company

John Deere’s first production GPS receiver, nicknamed “green eggs and ham,” brought satellite control to the tractor cab. Farmers eventually came to use GPS to steer their equipment, avoid spraying the same spot twice, and discover exactly which areas of a field produced the most.

In 1994, engineer Terry Pickett argued that Deere and Co. should invest in GPS-based precision agriculture research. Company executives agreed, hoping to encourage farmers to buy new, more-efficient equipment. In 1996, John Deere launched its GreenStar Precision Farming System. Their brochure predicted, “Information is your new crop!"

Scale model of a John Deere 7290R tractor, a Case IH Magnum 380 tractor, and an Agco TerraGator high-flotation dry applicator

Scale model of a John Deere 7290R tractor, a Case IH Magnum 380 tractor, and an Agco TerraGator high-flotation dry applicator

GPS receivers have become common on tractors, sprayers, combines, and farm equipment of all types. Farmers use satellite technology to guide their tractors, map their fields, control their planters and sprayers, and monitor their animals.

Cow neck tag with RFID transponder, 1980s

Modern dairies are increasingly technology driven. Operators use a variety of computerized devices to read and record data from each cow so they can understand variations within their herd. They record statistics on feed consumption, milk production, and animal health from each cow.

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