With the start of a new term, I am fortunate to start a whole new chapter of exciting classes for the winter of 2014. One of these classes is called ‘Agricultural Business Management’ and is taught by a second-term, first-year teacher called Professor Sterns. He has roots in the Willamette Valley via family in the Philomath areas that managed orchards but, he has spent a lot of time in Kansas and Florida. Like so many of my other agricultural professors, Professor Sterns has spent a large chunk of time traveling abroad and learning about other countries (for example France, West Africa, etc.). As a student, I greatly enjoy that he shares this information with us because it helps us understand the agricultural world that we will someday be a part of.
Last Tuesday, Professor Sterns challenged us with a very serious question. He stated, “In your lifetime, and probably mine, you will see the world population reach the 9 billion people mark. That is a ridiculously high number. What I want to ask you, as future managers of the agricultural world, how are we going to feed 9 billion people?”
That’s a very serious question! Have you ever felt worn down and exhausted after a long week? Trying to keep up with classes, homework, extracurriculars, your children, etc.? What if the Earth feels that way too? She has been working hard for a very long time, don’t you think that her resources could be close to being exhausted? Never given a break, we just ask her for more and more.
I feel like a lot of people have misconceptions about farmers. Farmers truly do LOVE the land! They don’t just use and abuse her; which can be hard in today’s times where market demand requires farmers to get as high of a yield as possible. Farmers take a lot of practical and precise measures in order to ensure that they are providing enough resources and nutrients back into the ground that they toil.
When Professor Sterns first asked this question I didn’t have a response. Frankly I was genuinely concerned! You know that panicked feeling you get when people start talking about death, zombies, and aliens? I was feeling the flutterings of that in my heartbeat when I thought about having to feed 9 billion people. That panic was driven by one though: STARVATION. As a victim of high-metabolism the rolls of terror that that word causes almost makes me faint! (Okay, slight exaggeration but I am ALWAYS eating.) I am already painfully aware of how much work it takes to feed the 7 billion people on earth now!
Not even a day later I learned the answer when I was at work: WilcoTRAX, the Ultimate Farmer App.
WilcoTRAX is only relevant to the Northwest United States but the concept is carried all over the U.S. and world with similar ideas. Other countries supporting their own versions of this app being Australia and England. WilcoTRAX is a service package provided by Wilco Cooperative out of the Oregon and Washington states. As learned in my agricultural history class, the Mid-Willamette valley has some of the most diverse and fertile soils; we can grow almost anything up here! WilcoTRAX is bringing an efficiency opportunity to the table that has never before been seen. It has been born by the exponential growth in technology and the handheld tablets that the rest of the industrialized world has been capitalizing on.
With the use of this app, farmers are now able to modernize their growing ability. They are able to plan, measure and connect with other growers, contractors, and agronomists. Wilco Farm Stores prides themselves on their knowledgable agronomists (agricultural economists) that take great pains in continuing their education and assisting the Wilco customers with combating plant diseases, crop failures, and crop yields. Agronomists visit fields as often as once a week or as little as just checking on a crop when it is beginning to bloom (usually regarding orchards).
In the past, the agronomist recording system has been poorly used by no fault other than poor technology. Some agronomists would record their visits and findings via Excel, others by a simple pen and paper (I think all of them have graduated from stone carvings!). What the WilcoTRAX app will allow the agronomists to do is be able to completely trace what each field has done in its lifetime. With GPS coordinate systems built in, detailed maps will be at the agronomists and growers fingertips. The growers will benefit because, via their tablet and app, they will know the cost, the products needed, and the crop yield for that field. The traceability feature for this will be priceless with today’s up and coming processing trend of being able to tell a processor what exactly that crop has been put through in its lifetime.
Agronomists are often consulted by growers to discover what crops they should grow in a field. With the use of the app, the agronomists will be able to tell you what to grow based on the previous crops held in the field, the type of soil in the field and the ability of a crop to grow in that specific environment. This app has been utilized in the corn belt states for something as specific as what TYPE of corn seed to grow; here in the Willamette Valley we not only have different types of seed that can be grown but also a variety of crops to be chosen from.
Another example of the efficiency of this app is when an agronomist visits a field and notices a pesky weed sprouting up between the crop rows. Maybe the agronomist isn’t there though, maybe it is the farmer who notices the weed. He simply pulls out his tablet, takes a picture, sends it to his neighbor.
“Have you seen this?” he asks.
His neighbor replies “Yup!”.
Quickly, in order to stop a weed-invasion, the farmer sends the picture to his agronomist who receives it on his tablet.
“Do you know what this is?” The farmer asks.
The agronomist is able to quickly assess the situation. He can then respond and sends the weed name to the grower and his neighbors, explaining the severity of the situation and what the plant will do to the desired crop. The agronomist also attaches the herbicide option that can be used to remove the weed.
The grower quickly analyzes the costs and effects of each option; clicks a button and the local aerial applicator is alerted via his tablet. Not only is he alerted to what chemical is going to be sent to him by Wilco Farm Stores, but he is alerted to the specifications for that chemical, the GPS coordinates have sent him a map of the field and if there are any nearby areas that cannot be sprayed (schools, rivers, lakes, graveyards, etc.), and also included are the HAZMAT directions and safety regulations for the pilot and his crew.
Efficiency, Professor Sterns. Efficiency is how we are going to feed 9 Billion people.
WilcoTRAX will be kicking off at the annual growers meeting on January 31st. Stay tuned for more details and check it out at your local Wilco Farm Store.
Attached is a short video created by fellow New Media office members at Wilco Farm Stores; produced mainly by video specialist Jessie Copley (check her out online, she has an amazing website and does a lot of family, wedding, etc. pictures).
To join the conversation use #WilcoTRAX on social media sources and @WilcoStores.