Members of the newest class of Indiana Master Farmers were not shy about sharing views on the biggest changes in agriculture. It was the first question Jim Mintert posed during a panel discussion. Mintert is a Purdue Extension agricultural economist and director of the Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture.
Answering question were 2022 Master Farmers and Honorary Master Farmers: Rob Dove, Elnora; Tom Nugent, Elnora; David Hardin, Avon: Greg Smoker, Wanatah; Mark Seib, Poseyville; Bob Cherry, Greenfield; and Gary Steinhardt, West Lafayette.
What is the most important change in agriculture that you have witnessed?
Dove: It must be advancements in technology. Even fertilizers today are different and more advanced than when I started farming. Technology is a real difference maker.
Nugent: You must include technology in that discussion. I started farming with a John Deere 494 four-row planter. Today, my son Thomas and I operate a 16-row planter with lots of bells and whistles, including the ability to change hybrids on the go to match soil types.
Our first piece of precision technology was a yield monitor we obtained through a rewards program with Beck’s. We believed in tiling and still do. However, we learned that very first year that soil compaction from tiling when soils were wet hurt yields more than we thought. That helped us make a management change.
Hardin: I see the biggest change as a shift in climate. We’re seeing much larger rains at different times than when I grew up. As a young man, I thought our fields were relatively flat. Today, we have grass waterways in some fields to help prevent soil erosion. One big reason we installed them is because we see bigger rains more often today. Also, we’re learning how to utilize cover crops and capture more carbon in our farming operation today to address climate change.
Smoker: My first thought is about how we’re training the next generation, and I think of it as going from the pitchfork to the skid-steer loader. In my younger days, we cleaned barns with a pitchfork. It was much easier to learn about hard work and responsibility from the business end of a pitchfork. Society, including some farm families, have perhaps lost sight of the value of a strong ethic today when training the next generation.
Seib: Technology advancements in equipment are big, but so are the improvements in genetics and traits in the seed we plant today. It’s evident this year in how well crops have stood up to stressful weather conditions. Advances in genetics is a big deal.
Cherry: I go back to the advent of hydraulics. It was the first big mechanical change that freed us from trip ropes on moldboard plows and the like. I would also point to advances in genetics, like Mark, plus advances in weed control with traits and herbicides. Today, it’s spray and we’re done — no cultivating. That’s one job I do not miss!
Steinhardt: Vast improvement in yield potential over my lifetime stands out. In my line of work, like mapping soils, advancements in technology are tremendous. I mapped soils with an aerial photograph and rough descriptions of land markers, like a tree here and a fence post there. With GPS today, it’s fast and accurate.