Currently I’m a trainee in the communications department at BASF Crop Protection. Right away in my second week, I had the chance to participate in an interview with farmer James Bushell from Cheshire, which sits in the Northwest of England.
Support and challenges: how technology is changing farming
In the interview, James discussed how technology has already changed and continues to change farming: From 30 horsepower tractors to agriculture news apps on his smart phone.
James possesses a long family tradition in farming, back at least four generations. He knew from a very early age that he would take over his father’s farm. “When I was young, farming was a lot more hands on. We used to work on the farm, at weekends, after school and all the school holidays. That is how I got into farming. And then you get addicted to it.” Today James grows mainly cereals and grass on about 250 acres. When it comes to the influence of technology on this farmer’s life, there have always been two sides to the coin – just like everything in life.
In the first place, technology provides many benefits. It changes the work on the fields, as well as in the office. Like nearly every other economic sector, work on the farm has become much more computer-driven. James explains, “The likes of GPS and stuff make life a lot easier, a lot quicker and a lot more accurate.” James can now be much more efficient with the limited time that he has to work in his fields.
And technology has also had a major impact on information retrieval. James doesn't read the farming press on paper anymore but rather uses apps and his smart phone. “You look for topics that interest you and then you just do a little search and find what you’re looking for. That helps.” Small bits of support like this are needed in farming, James concludes. It makes the work more efficient and helps farmers to produce more in higher quality: “Because we have got more and more mouths to feed, haven't we?"
One other massive change has been a small revolution in machinery, “From driving tractors that were sort of 30, 40 or 50 horsepower and now 150 plus. Farming nowadays is a lot more machinery-led.” That is one reason why James doesn’t know, if his children will take over his farm sometime and carry on the family tradition. “With the machinery being so expensive, big and complicated, you don’t put young children on this machines. When I was young, we could drive anything. We got involved a lot earlier.” So the young generations don’t experience farming right from the beginning anymore and maybe become disconnected.
There is another challenge with technology in modern farming, especially in regions like Cheshire. “In this part of England, it’s quite wet. So we have to wait for a very specific window to go out on the field.” Before, this was not as important as nowadays: The small tractors didn’t make a lot of impact in the ground, but with the larger machines now, the farmers have to be careful when they go on the field, otherwise they could ruin all the ground structure.
For me it becomes clear, that technology adds many new perspectives to farming – beneficial but also challenging ones. What are yours, in your country and on your fields? Is it horsepower, apps or accuracy?