With the help of technology, America’s farms have advanced from iron plows to milking robots. It turns out cutting-edge technology is now key to positioning the U.S. to become more food-independent. Scott Thuman reports from the field in Georgia.
The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
For as long as anyone can remember, it’s been the way of the world. A tried and true process, tilling the soil to put food on the plate and some money in the pockets of those working the land.
But farming is no longer just about tradition. More and more, it’s about technology.
In southwest Georgia, Adam McClendon and his family have been farming peanuts, cotton, and corn for five generations.
McClendon: One of the biggest challenges is dealing with mother nature and being able to adapt and overcome what the weather throws at you.
But — made easier these days by those subtle little posts poking up through his fields.
Adam: Ten years ago, to check the pivots and see what's broken down, you'd drive to every pivot, look out your truck window, see if it's walking, sitting there for three or four minutes and watch the tires move, and move on along to the next one. So just that one example from an irrigation standpoint is a game-changer.
Algorithms now remotely adjusting water and energy use on those pivots with the touch of a button.
And it’s not just on-the-ground tech; it’s also above. Constant satellite monitoring can now tell farmers when part of a crop, often hard to spot in the middle of a field, is suffering.
Saving valuable resources are ways farmers can be more productive — essential if America is going to achieve food independence. While we are the world's biggest agricultural exporter, selling $196 billion in 2022, our food imports are also growing and expected to reach $200 billion this year.
The drive to improve farming is quite literal for University of Georgia professor Simer Virk.
With his hands off the wheel, he is trying to determine which tractor’s GPS abilities are best to more precisely navigate crops, minimizing damage and maximizing the yield.
And smart sprayers operate only when needed, dramatically reducing the amount of pesticides and fertilizers used.
Scott: So when you've got weeds to kill, you're not spraying the whole field anymore.
Virk: If we don't need to spray the whole field, but only targeting the weed, why spray the whole field? Let's just target the weed and be more efficient with it.
What Virk is researching is called precision agriculture. It’s also the focus of intense study in these University of Georgia fields. Using advanced computer systems to give crops what they need — no more, no less
Calvin Perry is one the pioneers of farming’s fast-moving high-tech transition.
Scott: How big of a contrast are you seeing in farming when it comes to technology from 30 years ago to now?
Perry: I think if you were Rip Van Winkle and woke up today and compared yourself to 30 years ago, you would just be blown away. Now, if you go to sleep for five years and wake up, I think you're gonna see that curve even more steep.
So how much could these advancements really save farmers?
Perry: Here in Georgia and just in the south part of the state, we're talking upwards of 9,000 center pivots. If we put it on 85% of those, just think of the water savings percentage-wise that we could achieve.
Bringing down overall costs for consumers, and allowing farmers like McClendon to reap more from what he sows,
Scott: Can farming survive if you don't advance with technology?
McClendon: I don't think so.
For Full Measure, I’m Scott Thuman in Georgia.
Watch story here.