The growing global population is increasing, adding even greater demand for food. Farmers are working hard and keeping long hours during the harvest and growing seasons just to keep up. In response to this past summer’s heat and drought the agriculture industry is thinking of new ways to fight the conditions.
After 39 years working in the field, Kip Tom knows a thing or two about corn. For eight generations his family has grown a business that spans 16,000 acres.
“You put a lot of money out her in the crop. We will have 750 - 800 dollars invested in an acre of corn,” says Tom.
It is more than just money and hard work that keeps yields up. Tom says making full use of the soil and conditions is essential, “We like the 20 inch rows, it does a couple things for us, it shades the ground sooner and we have less evaporation from the sun, like in a summer like this. So typically our yields will not fall off as much.”
Tom says combining new technologies like G.P.S with tractors has also helped cut cost and time spent in the field.
“Let's adapt right now. So we can go in there, the algorithms already in place, come up with a new prescription and send it out to the tractor and change it on the go."
Time saved can then be spent in the office to gauge the weather and look for new ways to produce higher yields. According to Tom, “It used to be before we had advanced genetics and bio technology that we use today, that we would assume we needed 22 inches of rain to make a bumper crop. We have proven we can do that with 12 to 14 inches under normal temperatures.”
This year’s conditions were anything but normal. Tom says that this drought was the most severe he has ever seen, “This year we experienced about 98 of 153 above average temperatures between April 1 and August 31. So, with that less rain fall that was the recipe for much less yield we expected.”
Significant rains since the end of summer have helped, but other areas of the country are still suffering.
According to Kelly Heckaman , a Purdue Extension educator, “We have gotten everything from zero and some of those fields were chalked for silage to unexpected non irrigated fields over 100, 140, so some surprises and not so surprised this year.” Heckaman says that, as of mid-August, farmers in the Southwest had not had rain since May. As a result, they were looking at zero crops.
It is not just farms that are struggling. Heckaman says other food industries have been hit hard.
“Commodity prices for the pork industry are fairly low so, they have low prices for the pork as well as high feed prices. So they are in a stressful time period. Dairy producers are headed into a stressful period again with high feed prices. Milk prices are good but they could be stronger. We are hoping to see some relief from that next spring.”
Tom says the world’s food supply will need to double by 2050 using the same resources in place today just to meet global demands.
Farmers like Tom want to preserve agricultural resources for future generations, “We take pride in what you do and always want to produce good crop because everybody sees it, we feel the consequences of it, and when a year like this comes along it's like ah, it's not what we like to see, but it is what it is, we live in the weather.”
Just as weather forces farmers to work harder, technology is helping the agriculture industry work smarter.
“This year is an example. If we can produce 70 percent of a corn crop, given the disaster we just came through, it shows that the science and technology we are working with today is delivering value back to the consumer,” says Tom.
The Michiana area was not alone in the drought this summer, but the amount of yield farmers in the area were able to produce proves the importance of technology and smart farming.