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Government Relations Update: The Importance of Ag-Related Technology

Earlier this year, the Farm Credit Council (FCC) brought the message of innovation in agriculture to Capitol Hill. During this standing-room only event, – Farm to Tablet: Harvesting the Potential of Technology, four Farm Credit system customers highlighted for Congressional members and staff, how technology has helped their farms remain competitive, support their rural economy and scale up to incorporate the next generation.

Agriculture has always been capital-intensive, but new technology poses new capital challenges and farmers need a financial partner who truly understands the industry and marketplace, which is where AgCredit and additional Farm Credit System institutions can play a role.

Although each producer on the panel had a different type of farm operation, the one issue uniting all of them was the importance of access to broadband. FCC has been advocating for a specific emphasis on rural America’s unique infrastructure needs through its work coordinating the Rebuild Rural Coalition, a diverse collection of more than 220 farm and rural organizations. The Coalition is advocating expanding broadband to connect rural communities to the outside world. It also promotes transportation infrastructure improvement to highways, bridges, railways, locks and dams, harbors and port facilities. In addition, critical needs exist to provide clean water, affordable housing, and updated agricultural research facilities so the rural economy can stay competitive.

As technology continues to evolve, elected officials and policymakers need to better understand and appreciate the important role technology plays in efficiency, production and profitability, and the impact it will have on the future of farming and agriculture.

In AgCredit’s chartered 18-county territory, one of the most popular forms of technology used by farmers is precision agriculture enabled by the advent of GPS and the use of drones. Farmers are also utilizing other technological advances in northwest and north central Ohio with support from AgCredit. Here are just a couple of examples:

Dairy Farms

Labor savings, managing less labor and the elimination of labor issues are often the driving forces for dairy farms installing robotic milkers, especially on small and medium sized farms where family labor is used for some or all of the milking. Now, their labor can be redirected into other areas to improve nutrition, reproduction, herd health, milk production efficiencies, cow management, lower the cost of production and protect against eminent increases in wages and benefits. Reliable data is being used so dairy farmers can make the right decisions in the barn among the cows or for the longer term. In both cases, business optimization is the key and all at the touch of a dairy farmer’s fingertips using a smart phone.

Food Processing Industry

Hirzel Canning Company (Dei Fratelli brands) was founded in 1923. Today, nearly a century later, the third, fourth, and fifth generations of the Hirzel family carry on the legacy. In addition to their own Hirzel Farms, they work closely with more than 30 local, family growers.

The company recently upgraded its complete processing system, which included improvements in sorting technology as well as automation of many of the processes formerly controlled manually. This was accomplished by installing several electronic tomato sorting machines that utilize several different frequencies of light, both visible and ultraviolet, to evaluate the surface color and texture of the tomatoes. This rapid scan on both sides of the tomato allows the image to then be processed quickly while the software determines whether the tomato is acceptable or needs to be rejected from the flow. If this is the case, a rejection signal sends a pulse and the tomato is “kicked” out to the trash flow. Accepted tomatoes continue through the system towards the dicing and packing operation.

Controls at the canning company have also been automated using Human-Machine-Interface (HMI) technology allowing an operator to fully control segments of the system and monitor the continuous process from a screen. This gives powerful feedback to the operation and allows for high utilization of the equipment due to the high degree of system awareness the operator has through these interfaces. This process helped the company deal with a very tight labor market by giving its operators a high level of productivity based on tons/man hours through these enhancements.

David White serves as AgCredit’s account manager for government relations and financial services.