How technology is nourishing the food chain

New technologies are making food production more efficient and more environmentally sound. Here's how farmers are using everything from crop modeling tools to drones to generate higher yields.

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Tim Malterer is a fourth-generation farmer who started working his family's land when he was a kid. He learned the business from his parents, who had learned it from their parents.

So at just 28, Malterer already has 20-plus years of practical farming experience -- and he's the beneficiary of plenty of institutional knowledge passed down through the generations.

But he's starting to realize that computers might have a leg up on him.

Last year, when he calculated how much nitrogen to add to his corn crop, he figured it needed 20 to 30 lbs. per acre. He considered various factors, including rainfall and soil conditions.

He then used Nitrogen Advisor, an analytics program that's part of the Climate Pro platform from The Climate Corp., and it recommended 40 to 50 lbs.

"We're using modeling for the great majority of the fields. The instincts and the practical experience that my parents learned and I've learned have given us a great baseline. But [technology] gives us a more targeted approach," he says.

Malterer went with his numbers in some areas and with the software's higher recommended amounts in others. By harvest time, the fields with the higher amounts of nitrogen had produced more bushels of corn per acre.

"Our expense for those fields was more, but the return far outweighed what the expense was," he says.

Farmers today are using sophisticated IT systems to do their jobs. They're adopting advanced analytics and complex software to plan better and manage smarter. They're also starting to use more cutting-edge technologies, such as satellite imagery and drones. And they may soon be sending robots into their fields.

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