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July 2012 Archive for Growing Technology

RSS By: Ben Potter,

Technology editor Ben Potter brings you the latest in technology news, and how you can apply it to farming.


3,369 Depressing Records (And 7 Fun Ones)

Jul 23, 2012

 Records are made to be broken, and 2012 is a good year to prove that statement. As temperatures have climbed steadily throughout the summer, so have the number of temperature-related records. In fact, my most recent Google search brought me to the Climate Corporation’s website this morning. That group is now reporting that a total of 3,369 record daily highs have been broken or tied this year.

AgWeb continues to provide comprehensive coverage of the 2012 drought, and there’s not a lot of good news to share. But as we have also reported this week, farmer optimism has remained strong in the face of this hard, hot summer. In celebration of that attitude, here are seven quirky farm records, courtesy of Guinness World Records, to help lighten the mood:

  1. The largest gathering of scarecrows in one location is 3,311, in 2003 at the Cincinnati Horticultural Society's Cincinnati Flower and Farm Fest.
  2. The world's largest turkey farm is credited to Bernard Matthews, who keeps 1 million of the birds at his farm near North Pickenham, United Kingdom.
  3. The deadliest bolt of lightning on a farm killed 68 cows with a single strike in 2005 in New South Wales, Australia.
  4. The most people husking corn is 351 at an event organized by Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., last July.
  5. The most spring barley planted in a single day was 1,431 acres, on a Ukraine farm using a single AGCO Challenger MT865 tractor pulling a 60-foot wide Horsch seeder.
  6. The longest gourd measured 14 feet, 11 inches long, in a Chinese garden in 2008.
  7. The most corn cobs on a single plant is 16, grown by Iowa farmer Tyler Craig in 2009.

Watch Some Tractor Origami

Jul 13, 2012

 Tractors and implements are getting bigger – that’s not necessarily news. But what is interesting is how some companies are solving the ensuing transportation issues.

Take the Sunflower 6631 vertical tillage tool, for example. "Big" is just about the only way to describe it. It is 40 feet long and tips the scales at 24,000 lb. Yet for highway transportation, a series of hydraulic controls allows for a bit of "tractor origami" – the implement can fold up into a box that is only 17’9" long and 13’6" high.

"We’re trying to figure out new ways to bend implements and fold them," says Mark Wyrick, product support manager. "It’s going to take us awhile to get up to speed on it, but that’s basically what we’re doing. The other thing we’re also looking at from a design perspective is larger tires for greater stability on the highway and ability to handle greater loads."

Here’s a quick demonstration of how the Sunflower 6631 folds up for highway transportation:

I'm Breaking Up With Facebook

Jul 11, 2012

 I get some interesting emails on occasion. Yesterday, one arrived in my inbox offering "experts on addiction." Not for drugs or alcohol, but rather for the new vice on the block – Internet addiction.

The offer was in response to this week’s Newsweek cover story titled"iCrazy" about the same topic. The article says that newly available peer-reviewed research suggests that the internet has become "all-pervasive" and could be making us "not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious." 

Those are serious claims, to be sure. And let’s not casually dismiss the web's positive power, either. The Internet, smartphones, tablets, etc., are powerful professional tools, in my line of work as well as yours. Did you know that 98% of journalists start working on a story by doing a Google search? I also use Twitter to mine story ideas, and I keep up with the latest industry trends on various other online watering holes.

Farmers are increasingly online as well. And why not? Markets, weather, news – it’s all right there at the touch of a button. There are also a bevy of farm-centric apps that that help you do your jobs more easily and more efficiently.

Still, it’s pretty easy these days to get sucked out of real life and into digital spaces.

"The Internet is a place you can go and constantly find rewards," says Tony Dokoupil, the author of the Newsweek article. "Every time your phone pings, it’s opportunity … essentially, our brains are rewiring themselves for speed."

Like a classic addict, my gut reaction to all of this was, "I can quit any time I want to." Well, time to put my money where my mouth is. I'll start by breaking up with Facebook. It’s been an uncomfortable space to visit for a while, anyway. Oversharing on Facebook has become the new norm, from overbearing political opinions to snapshots of your breakfast. I even watched a friend’s marriage disintegrate through my Facebook feed over the past few months.

All of this is morbidly fascinating, and with real-time updates, there's always something new to see, so the temptation to "catch up" is ever-present. I think a little break would be good for us. It’s not you, Facebook, it’s me.

What do you think? Is Internet addiction a real problem, or do you think the media is sensationalizing the issue?

Would You Trust a Driverless Car (or Tractor)?

Jul 03, 2012

Thirty years ago, television audiences were introduced to Knight Rider, which starred a car better known as KITT. KITT was equipped with everything from the practical (turbo boost) to the stylish (convertible roof) to the improbable (flame throwers). And of course, the car drove itself.

The premise entertained 1982 audiences with its "what if" look at technology. But in 2012, "what if" is quickly turning into "what next"? The era of driverless vehicles is upon us. In May, the state of Nevada awarded Google license to operate "autonomous vehicles" on its roads. A long list of car manufacturers have their own projects in development, including BMW, Audi, Volvo, GM, Ford, Volkswagen and many more.

Several agricultural equipment companies are also developing driverless tractor technology. A recent Farm Journal feature highlighted how companies like Kinze and Fendt are working on automated equipment. And a recent visit with John Deere officials revealed they have been working on driverless tractors for the past "five or ten years," according to Bob Dyar, a product manager with the company’s Intelligent Solutions Group.

Dyar says the real hurdles today aren’t technological ones -– they’re social ones. How comfortable would you feel driving 60 mph down the highway and seeing a driverless car pull up alongside your car, he asks? He says a similar comfort level for driverless tractors will also take time to develop.

"It’s quite easy to make a tractor autonomous where it can drive itself," he says. "The challenge is making it perceptive, so you trust it not to hit a tree or the family dog."

Meantime, John Deere has rolled out equipment with some autonomous functionality. Specifically, the company’s newer machine synch technology allows combine operators to control the location of both the tractor and the grain cart for automated on-the-go unloading. They can lock the grain cart into position and adjust it as needed for more efficient cart filling.

Now if someone could just look into building a tractor with flame throwers…

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