Farmers try to keep up with technology advances

Technology advances have always been a part of farming; after all, the industry has moved from horses and oxen to tractors and combines.

But in recent years, technology that once seemed unimaginable is appearing even on small farms.

From the road, Heimerl Farms south of Johnstown looks like an average large farm. Four tall silos are surrounded by hog bars and about 2,500 acres of grain fields.

One of the farm’s international harvester tractor rolls idles in a barn. It rolls on 6 foot high tires and is powered by a 235 horse power engine. But it’s guided by satellites.

On the other side of the farm, augers and chutes transfer hog feed from the silos into semi trucks, just as they have for years. But now computers control the mix of ingredients right down to the fraction of a pound.

In the barns, hogs scurry to the edge of the pen,looking for some of that feed. Behind the scenes, special software tracks the feed mixture, breeding and the quality of the pork the hogs produce.

On other farms, dairy cows wander into barns when the feel the need and are milked automatically by robots.

Genetically engineered seed can boost yields, protect crops from insects and even increase flavor.

Pictures taken from satellites help farmers estimate crop production and control run-off.

Matt Heimerl climbs into a red truck that spreads fertilizer and pesticides. The cab of the truck is filled with technology.

A pocket pc is connected to a global positioning satellite receiver and spreader controls. The GPS system helps him steer. The pocket pc uses soil samples to tell the spreader controls how much fertilizer to spread and where. Heimerl says the system helps boost yield and cut costs.

The system cost about 3-thousand dollars. Heimerl expects the cost savings to pay for the system in about a year..

There is a GPS system that actually steer the tractor automatically they cost much more, but the Heimerl’s are considering it.

While satellites robots may be new to farming, technology advances are not.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s Joe Cornelly says for the past 75 years, technology has been advancing. Farmers are always looking for new ways to gain an advantage to squeeze profits in a low margin industry.

While prices have come down, the GPS technology and robotic systems remain expensive – out of reach for small farmers.

Joe Logan, president of The Ohio Farmers Union, which represents family farms, says small farms are not threatened by the unaffordable GPS systems.

Many farming technology advances are microscopic. Bio technology is being used by more and more farmers.. And not just the big farms. The farm bureau’s Joe Cornelly says bio tech has boosted yields, increased protection and even improved flavor.

Farmer’s Uion president Joe Logan is skeptical about some biotech advances. Logan says some genetic engineering advances are being driven by research companies and labs rather than farmers or the consumer.

Matt Heimerl who is 21, readily accepts the new farming technology. He says farmers are adapting.. Gradually. And just when they get used to it, some new farming technology will come along..