Back to Articles

Farmers and Technology: How Canada’s Ag industry embraces new technology

By Spencer Myers
Staff Writer

Do you use your phone to check the weather forecasts? How about using the computer to compare machinery prices, or flying a drone to scout crops?

Whether you’ve noticed or not, the agriculture industry is quickly becoming a source and supporter of some of the most advanced technologies to date.

In an industry where so many things are uncertain, farmers and agricultural business owners are always looking for ways to make their jobs easier and help their bottom line. One of the growing trends I’ve noticed is the farming industry’s curiosity and acceptance of new technologies.

Farmers Embracing Technology

Farmers are starting to see the benefits of the tech boom in a number of ways, and ones that aren’t just financial.While operations are becoming more and more adaptive, don’t think that farmers are carelessly spending money on the newest and hottest farming trends.

The reasons for a farmer to try something new are usually related to three themes: Saving (or making) money, saving time, or adding convenience.

There are different reasons people might want to try something new, but before famers go spending a fortune they want to know that they’re getting something in return. In other words, “What’s in it for me?”

Let’s look at cell phones as an example. Growing up, all of our farm vehicles had a CB radio. As cell phones were introduced CB radios were still the standard because they offered the same thing as a phone and they actually worked better in areas with bad service. This left many people like my dad not seeing the need to carry (and pay for) a cell phone.

What changed?

One thing is obviously better cellular service and fewer dead zones. The ability to search the Internet from a cell phone is another feature that dramatically increased the capabilities and the value of a phone. Now we don’t even call them cell phones, they’re called smart phones or mobile devices because of the computing power they hold. By adding a smart phone, farmers can now do any Internet tasks that they previously would have had to be at home for.

In my opinion, it’s because of the added value and not just the tool itself why we see so many farmers using phones today. Besides the fact that younger generations are overall more active on social media, your phone now has a camera and a direct connection to platforms like Instagram or Facebook, and this make it much more enticing for some farmers.

If you sell products directly from the farm such as grass-fed beef or organic produce, allowing followers to see exactly what your farm does day-to-day and from the source is a big advantage for online marketing.

Farmers are saving time and money with GPS 

Getting away from mobile phones, let’s take a look at something slightly more practical like GPS systems.

GPS systems are now available in almost every new tractor, and adding a unit to older models is relatively easy. Almost every operation is using GPS, but that wasn’t the case even just 10 years ago. At first it might seem like you’re only adding a fancy map to your in-cab monitor, but GPS can do a lot more. Once farmers saw the actual benefits, their confidence in GPS systems grew and having a GPS went from being a luxury to an being essential.

To learn more about how farmers are using GPS units, I talked with Christian Wytinck, a 22-year-old from Cypress River, Manitoba

Christian farms full time on his family’s grain and dairy operation near Cypress River, and adding to his experience is a Diploma in Agriculture from the University of Manitoba. He says they’ve been able to see some direct benefits from using GPS over the last few crop years.

“One thing that’s new for us is section control on various GPS units. The main benefits have obviously been saving input costs, less overlap, consistency of acreage per field and things like that.

But one thing that’s been really nice about the section control is verifying your acres per field. If you’re on land that you just acquired or maybe land that you just bulldozed or something like that, section controls are a really good representation of the proper amount of acres.”

Wytinck continues…

“For an example, we just bought this one field close-by and when we went to farm it, Dad thought it would seed 295 acres. But when I went to actually seed it I would always run short of seed.

When we got this new sprayer with section control it turned out the field ended up being 314 acres, so it was a good representation of the proper area measurement.”

While Wytinck has been happy with the accuracy and measurement features, there are other things about GPS and section control he’s seen benefits from.

“I’ve been using the GPS degree measurement, so on all the fields we have that are north-south I’ve been seeding them at zero degrees, which is a true north-south straight line, and on the east-west fields I’ve been going at 270 degrees.

So then for zero-till applications I want my air seeder to follow between the rows, and I can almost guarantee that it will because I’m seeding at the same degrees every year.”

Wytinck notes how the degree measurement is helpful for other things like tillage or swathing. He says depending on each field, simple things like going at an angle instead of a straight line can cut down on wasted acres and help to maximize consistency and efficiency.

Wytinck is also excited about emerging technologies like access to remote weather stations. He mentioned how companies like Farmers Edge and others are starting to offer farmers access to a system of remote weather stations spread throughout the prairies.

This information is more localized and more detailed than that from a national or provincial station, allowing a closer look at the conditions than a station that’s potentially 20-30 kilometers away.

“You can view everything right from home, and you’re not driving wasting time and gas to check a crop that you can’t work. Maybe you want to spray but your field is 9 kilometers away, now you can just check the station to see how windy it is rather than having to physically go check.”

Christian Wytinck farms with his brother, Miguel, and parents Jamie and Joelle. They operate Double J Acres LTD, a mixed grain and dairy operation near Cypress River, Manitoba.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reaching out to farmers to find out what makes them want to try a new technology on their farm.

Stay tuned for more in this on-going series where I’ll be exploring how different Manitoban farms are experimenting and benefiting from adapting to new technologies.