How to be a situationally aware farmer

Are you a situationally aware farmer? Surviving in Canadian agriculture has required this. Or, some might postulate that being completely unaware might be what allows farmers to remain in the business.

Most people, economists included, would suggest that the barrier to entry for most agriculture is so high that only existing farm families can remain farming. And, for the most part, they would be right. Attracting investment to the business is difficult at best. Attracting enough to be sustainable or durable through more than a half-dozen seasons is really tough.

But that is only one part of the situation of which farmers might need to be aware.

Last week, Ontario farmers got their first hands-on interaction with Saskatchewan’s DOT, the autonomous field tool platform. From all accounts, despite some damp conditions, farmers in Central Canada enjoyed engaging with the technology, as have farmers for a few seasons here in the West.

Autonomous farming tools require some situational awareness to avoid hazards in the field, or from becoming them. These use sensors to ensure all is working as it should and obstacles aren’t in the way of success.

Autonomous machines are one of the near-future tools that promise to create improved farm margins. Bigger crops through site-specific farming and from saved labour and input costs will add to the overall ability of farms to survive and may even lower some barriers to entry.

One of the farmer-comments that is common during discussions of autonomous equipment is that producers are reluctant to give up cab-time. While there are benefits to seeing the land and the fields, the ability to multiply one’s efforts through automation may prove to be more valuable, provided farmers can get used to riding a desk instead of a machine.

The ability to read a field based on data collected ahead of or during operations might prove to be a more financially sustainable skillset than that of direct observation. It’s also auditable.

With consumers and governments demanding more accountability from food production and rural land use, despite not wanting to invest in it, the roll of automation may be bigger than replacing a few bodies on the farm.

What sensors are you employing in your current situational awareness?

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