January 10, 2008

Farmers Riding the Technology Wave

Nearly three decades have passed since Missouri agricultural extension agents first preached the power of computers to skeptical farmers. However, the changes have come lightning quick according to a report by Associated Press (AP).

Agricultural educators were once greeted with only blank and bewildered stares from farmers. The old bulky main frames and archaic floppy disks made it hard for farmers to embrace technology. But now computer-savvy cattlemen and crop farmers are gaining new-found respect everything from tractor-mounted mapping systems to market reports delivered as podcasts.

"Farmers are much more technologically savvy than people think," said John Travlos, a University of Missouri extension agent, in a recent AP interview. "They have to be. Agriculture is big business."

To prove this point, farmers from across Missouri gathered Friday at a Lake of the Ozarks resort for the university's annual farm computer users' conference. Novices and experts alike learned about topics ranging from basic spreadsheet use for managing finances to implementing "precision agriculture" techniques to maximize crop yields through computer-driven soil testing and fertilizer applications.

Robert Deal, a 57-year-old Malta Bend farmer, isn't a newcomer to these conferences. He attended his first conference in 1979 According to the AP report, he recalled the boxy IBM machines that could only store 16 megabytes of data, along with peers who didn't quite understand the fuss. Now, he said, "It's about mandatory."

Also in attendance at this years conference was lifelong farmer Norman Brown of Aledo, Ill. He runs a company that specializes specifically in farm-friendly software that assists in compiling crop summaries, cost analyses, livestock feeding schedules and other specialized applications.

Brown was not only there to sell his product. He was there to learn as well. "I'm here to learn what's new," he told AP. "As long as Bill Gates is in charge, something will be obsolete tomorrow."