As Chair of the museum’s Division of Work and Industry I don’t get out much. I mostly read books on history, inspect the occasional artifact being offered to the museum, visit museums where our objects are on loan, and go to lots of meetings. When the United Soybean Board heard about our plans to feature agriculture in the American Enterprise exhibition they challenged me to leave my comfy chair and travel to Iowa. While there, I could attend the Farm Progress Show, see what’s new in equipment, learn about precision farming, and experience farm life.
My host Roy Bardole and I started our tour of the immense Farm Progress Show at the Pioneer Hi-Bred tent. People tried to get him to take off his Hill Seed hat (a competitor) with an offer of a Pioneer hat replacement but Roy didn’t cave to the pressure. The Pioneer displays were filled with interesting technical information but my favorite item was a container of five-bean soybean pods (they are as rare as four leaf clovers). The seed companies promise to increase crop yields by hybridizing plants to produce more five-bean pods.
After leaving the Pioneer tent, Roy and I wandered around for a while but soon headed over to the John Deere area to check out the company’s innovations in precision farming. Just as navigation systems in modern automobiles can tell a lost driver how to reach their destination, the GPS systems in farm equipment gathers information and links it to a specific location. At harvest time a farmer can use this technology to determine exactly what part of the field has the highest or lowest yield rate and gain insight as to why. Comparing the harvest data to soil analysis, fertilizer application, and other information provides great opportunity for increasing production. The GPS equipment can also steer the tractor and save materials by signaling the planter head or sprayer nozzles to shut off.
One of my goals for attending the Farm Progress was to figure out whether precision farming is marketing hype or real. I chatted with the John Deere employees who were manning the demonstration consoles but didn’t get very far. You can imagine the look you would get if you walked into a Chevrolet dealership and asked the sales personnel whether people use cars. A little frustrated, I gave up and climbed into the cab of a shiny green tractor – branding is important and everything made by John Deere is bright green.
Our next stop was the Case/IH display which made Roy happy as he uses their equipment. He of course told me the classic International Harvester adage: If it’s green it’s grass but if it’s red it’s a tractor (Case equipment is always painted a deep red while Deere equipment is bright green). Nothing was going on at the stage but we did see a huge plexi-glass container of competitors’ hats. We could only imagine the process used to encourage people to give up their hats but clearly company headgear was one of the battle grounds of the Farm Progress Show.
The Case/IH display on GPS was perfect for me and the company representative was very patient. He walked me through the process and explained the virtues of the system. The technology offers some real opportunities, but it will take visits to working farms to find out whether the innovations are being widely adopted and impacting the culture of farming.
Where do you think I should go next?