What comes to mind when someone says “farm” to you? Fields of crops? Cows being milked? Chickens, pigs, goats, and other animals? Of do you think science, technology, engineering, and math? Most people do not associate technologies or math-based skills with farming. And, yes, although the farm may be tucked away from the bustling city life, the technology of the 21st century is a big part of a farmer’s life.
Science plays a major role in farming. We use genetics to determine which bull will produce well-muscled calves for beef. We need to determine how much nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous is lacking in the soil. Too much will not produce a better crop. Are there weeds in the field? Which herbicide is needed to eradicate the weeds without compromising the nutritional value or even killing the crop?
Today farmers use sophisticated technologies such as robots, temperature and moisture sensors, aerial images, and GPS technology to ensure better crops and minimal impact on the ecosystem. Moisture sensors help determine when the crops are dry enough to harvest. This is important especially in our industry where wet hay creates moldy hay – unsuitable for livestock. The GPS technology helps track the movement of the tractor so that seeds or fertilizer is spread evenly with no overlapping rows. Technology can even determine the specific areas that require more or less fertilizer, areas that are too moist for planting, or too dry and require irrigation.
Engineering is probably the most widely used but least thought about in the farming industry. Farmers need the skills of engineers to design more efficient farm machinery to creating bio-fuels. Engineers can help design effective ways to minimize erosion, how to preserve wetlands, and reduce pollution. Engineers are also valuable in designing buildings to better shelter the animals while keeping their feed, water, and mobility in mind.
While the computer may assist the farmer in daily calculations, math is vital for the success of the farmer. Farmers need to look at the ratio of fertilizer required per acre as well as the mix of chemicals required for the acreage. The amount of seeds required as well as how to layout the plots require math. Knowing the amount of time, materials, and upkeep on the equipment determines the market value of the crop. And when all is said and done, the farmer needs to know if the efforts to raise the crops or livestock was profitable.
Today, many schools are promoting STEM classes as a vital part of a student’s education. From our point of view, STEM is vital for survival.