Innovation

Technology Gives Farmers Data to Grow More with Less

Stop and think about how technology has impacted modern farming and you likely think about innovations in equipment – combines that steer themselves or tractor cabs with satellite radio and information like soil data on touchscreen at farmers’ fingertips. Agricultural technology is evident well beyond the combine cab, however. Today’s U.S. soybean farmers use technology to improve nearly all facets of their job, allowing them to farm more efficiently than ever before.

Below, a few examples of cutting-edge agricultural technology you may not have heard about before:

  1. Drones. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are not a new innovation. The military has used them for decades in situations where manned flights are not possible. Today, however, drones are used for commonplace conveniences like delivering packages, measuring real estate acreage or taking aerial photos. Perhaps no industry has a wider spectrum of uses for drones than agriculture. U.S. soybean farmers use drones to scout their fields for pests and diseases. Drones also can help farmers efficiently and consistently irrigate or spray their crops. They can even be used to assist with planting. Drones are already providing farmers with a digital eye in the sky, and they’re predicted to grow by 70 percent by 2050.
  1. NIR Technology. Drones help farmers keep an eye on their fields, but NIR technology gives them a look at a much smaller subject matter – the contents of their soybeans. Near Infrared Technology, or NIR, uses wavelengths of light to evaluate soybean composition. Elevators and crushers use NIR technology to measure moisture, protein and oil content. This level of transparency helps them to better meet end-user needs. Animal nutritionists, for example, can use the NIR information to confirm they are purchasing soybean meal that provides the nutritional attributes their cows, chickens and pigs require. While NIR technology is offered by some crushers to prove value to their customers, it’s currently in development in more portable, more cost-effective handheld devices that may eventually allow farmers to check the quality of the soybeans they grow.
  1. CRISPR Technology. If NIR technology sounds hi-tech, CRISPR technology is downright futuristic. CRISPR technology (short for “clusters of regularly interspaces short palindromic repeats”) is used by researchers to edit DNA. This allows them to enhance genetic traits in order to prevent diseases…or improve crop yields. This means the same technology that medical researchers are evaluating to potentially prevent and cure diseases can be used in foods to eliminate things like peanut allergies. And in the foreseeable future, U.S. soybean farmers may attribute higher-yielding varieties, or ones with increased meal quality or drought tolerance, to CRISPR technology, as it’s used to bring forth the most desirable attributes in new soybean varieties.
  1. Blockchain. Globally, customers of soy increasingly expect transparency. The U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) spearheaded the formation of the U.S. Soy Sustainable Assurance Protocol (SSAP) to provide customers vertification that they were purchasing a sustainable product. On a similar front, Blockchain is a digital payment technology that eliminates the need for traditional currency, making business transactions more efficient, less costly and less susceptible to fraud. It also comes backed by detailed records, meaning if an importer purchases a pork shipment from a hog farm in Illinois, he can be assured this is the precise shipment he receives. He can also see medical records to ensure a safe product. This capability has led global agriculture to take a close look at this innovative new transaction platform.

The world’s population is expected to double by 2050. Technologies like these will help U.S. soybean farmers to do their part in providing a safe, sustainable and abundant food supply. 

Jen Del Carmen
Jen Del Carmen

Managing Editor

U.S. Soybean Export Council

Jen Del Carmen works as a communications consultant with the U.S. Soybean Export Council.