I spent the better part of last week walking around at the 2013 National Farm Machinery Show, talking with various exhibitors and generally staying on the lookout for new, interesting farm technology.
I didn't leave disappointed. I saw cloud computing, telematics, touchscreen technology, remote diagnostics, and unique hardware and software solutions everywhere I turned. That got me thinking - what has been the most important farm technology advancement over the past year, or even the past decade? Is it something John Deere, Case IH or another tractor company has developed? What about a new innovation from one of the precision ag companies? Or how about some other bit of new farm gadgetry?
Those are all great, but if I had to pick one, I'd go with a device that wasn't even designed for farmers. But farmers are increasingly using this device for more and more functions on the farm. I'm talking about the iPad.
The iPad and other tablet computers debuted less than three years ago, but they've already saturated the consumer market and are increasingly ubiquitous on the farm. The tablet computer is the vessel for so much useful information. A new generation of farmers are combining the iPad and autosteer technology to conduct more business than ever in their tractor cabs.
Start with a simple mount, and you can access markets, news and weather from your cab. Add a few cameras and turn your iPad into a rearview mirror, or keep an eye on livestock, buildings or other valuable assets. Download a few apps, and your iPad becomes a recordkeeping device, a decision-making business tool, a math whiz. It's also a digital water cooler where you can chat with farmer friends on ag discussion forums or even Twitter.
The iPad is also nudging the rest of the industry, especially in precision ag design. Notice how many ag devices now feature touchscreen functionality, with more and more having "swipe" and other functions that mimic how you use tablet computers.
"It's a technology culture that's driving the iron now," says Trevor Mecham, Case IH AFS marketing manager. "Iron is the business we're in, but it's the technology that's selling the iron now."
Of course, opinion is subjective. Many farmers get along just fine without a tablet computer. What do you think is the most important farm technology to come along in the past decade?