For city slickers who believe that the bulk of U.S. farmers are illiterate hicks who don’t have the brains to make it in the real world, they are themselves ignorant of the tremendous technological advancements made ‘down on the farm’ over the last few decades.

It’s really not surprising that most big city kids think their food magically appears on the store shelves of their local grocery store and haven’t an inkling what goes into its production. And many adults have never had the pleasure and opportunity to pick a peach from a fruit orchard, or walk down a field row planted in cucumbers. The truth is that the stereotypic images of yesteryear – of fields filled with cotton pickers and rusty old tractors pulling heavy plows partially hidden in a dust cloud – have been replaced by complicated and sophisticated machinery that in actuality take a lot of smarts to operate.

Suffice it to say that modern agriculture has turned the corner in eliminating a lot of the back-breaking toil many of us associate with farming. These achievements in state-of-the-art farming methods have been developed over decades by growers, academic researchers, Extension agents, and technology companies.  Put simply, if growers could use one word to describe the future of agriculture it would be “precision.”

To describe the almost unbelievable aspects of modern farming technology, consider a tractor pulling a fertilizer/planter that needs no driver. The equipment is controlled by a sophisticated computer guidance system called Real-Time Kinetics. It uses satellite GPS but also receives signals from a nearby tower. The path it follows is “auto-steered” to the inch so that it achieves “controlled wheel traffic.” This means that a large percentage of this field is never driven over or compressed by the weight of the equipment. The lack of overlap pays for the system, but the lack of soil compression dramatically lowers emissions of the potent, ozone destroying and greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide from the field.

Found in the tractor cab is a display unit showing how the rate of fertilizer being applied is adjusted foot-by-foot according to site-specific yield history and soil sampling maps. The fertilizer is “knifed in” just the right distance below the seed so that the developing crop roots will efficiently absorb it. This “precision, variable-rate fertilization” pays for itself in lower fertilizer rates overall, but it greatly reduces the amount of nitrogen that could potentially leach into groundwater.