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Agriculture readies for its ultimate challenge

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  • Technology has enabled producers to win battles against pest threats in many crops, save millions of dollars, and create a smaller environmental footprint through reduced pesticide use.

Those in the field of agriculture may remember a popular painting years ago of a farmer dressed in bib overalls and holding a pitchfork standing next to his spinster daughter dressed in a colonial print apron.

The painting called American Gothic, created by artist Grant Woods in 1930, is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. The two captured in paint were actually Woods’ sister and dentist.

Agriculture was almost all hand labor in those days. The popular pitchfork was used to lift and pitch loose material including hay. A mechanized hay baler which tied bales with twine was merely a pipe dream.

Those were also hard-working times times in the cotton industry. Picking cotton by hand was grueling work. Workers reached into branches and bolls, causing wounds to the arms and hands, to pick the soft white cloud from its hard protective shell.

Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in the late 18th century and John Daniel Rust’s spindle cotton picker in the late 1920s, and other inventions, signaled the evolution of mechanization in the cotton industry.

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Today, mechanization touches all sectors of agriculture. Technology has moved beyond planting and harvesting machines to satellite-based programs including GPS auto-steer and locator programs.

Essentially, technology has basically put an ‘e-sheriff’ in farmers’ fields. If a thief steals a tractor from a farm in Temecula, Calif., an onboard locator system can locate the stolen equipment anywhere in the world.

This means that Barney Fife, TV’s inept deputy on ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ can finally rest in peace.

Technology has dramatically increased producer productivity. At the turn of the 20th century, one U.S. farmer fed 25 other people. Today, the U.S. farmer feeds about 130 people.

Technology has enabled producers to win battles against pest threats in many crops, save millions of dollars, and create a smaller environmental footprint through reduced pesticide use. Bt cotton, sterile insects, and other advances have almost eradicated the pink bollworm, once the West’s top pest nemesis, from cotton fields.

Irrigation advances have allowed farmers to use less water while producing more food per drop.

The latest technology breakthroughs in the U.S. lettuce industry will likely revolutionize production. Researchers have identified a gene and enzyme which could improve lettuce germination and plant maturity under high temperatures.

Second, automated lettuce thinner technology will help growers thin young lettuce stands by machine instead of using hand labor which will free up workers for other important duties.

These agricultural breakthroughs and others are preparing global agriculture for its most daunting task ever – to feed a world population expected to increase 20 percent within the next 25-30 years.

To accomplish this task, the United Nations says crop yields must increase from 70 percent to 100 percent to achieve this goal, while using less land and water.

Achieving this goal is possible as long as excessive government regulations, environmental extremists, and other factors don’t handcuff producers in the process.

cblake@farmpress.com

More from Western Farm Press:

Agricultural technology critical to feed 9 billion people

Challenging year ahead for cotton

Winds cause $70 million-plus loss in California almond

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