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Crop farming today is based on fast moving technology

Feb. 3, 2014 | 0 comments


The annual Wisconsin Crop Management Conference is an event that is all about change in raising farm crops: New fertilizers, chemicals, systems and the equipment and services to use them to assist farmer raise human and livestock feed.

I've attended this event for many years and always learn much like:

· How fast the fertilizers and chemicals change in use and formulation;

· The constant merging of companies;

· New products and services; and

· The knowledge needed by the sales people, applicators and farmers to sell and use the increasingly complicated technology

A full program

The three-day event is sponsored by the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association, Inc. (WABA), a nonprofit trade association, the UW–Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and UW-Extension.

The 1500 attendees to the Jan. 14 - 16 event held at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, had the opportunity to attend some 65 seminars on subjects ranging from crop disease management to manure and fertilizer watershed studies and ag technology.

Between the seminars, the trade show featuring 135 exhibitors offered a look at the latest in products, services and technology.

Interestingly, this conference is not promoted for farmer or public attendance, rather it is aimed at the companies and organizations directly involved in crop production equipment, products and service and the people who sell to and service farmers.

The atmosphere of the crowd was exuberant and why not? The major Wisconsin (and Midwest) corn and soybean growers are coming off a record or near record year in terms of yield and selling price and dairy farmers, most of whom also raise their crops, are receiving top milk prices with the 2014 outlook rosy.

New and industry changing

In a long career of attending farm meetings and working in agriculture, I've yet to attend a meeting or talk to a farmer who was seeking a way to add more labor to their farming operation — farming is always about doing more with less expense, more efficiently. (An example: Making hay with a dump rake and pitch fork to a flat rack and hay loader to a baler and basket wagon to a chopper and semi trailer.)

One of the exhibits at the conference, although small in size and plainly decorated, managed by but two young men and with a name unknown to most, always had a crowd waiting or talking. The company, DMZ LLC from Prairie du Sac, is owned by cousins Mitchell and Zack Fiene, featured the highest of high technology: Drones and their use in cropping programs.

We've all read about the potential of how drones will soon be a part of our lives, especially since the recent maybe joking announcement by Amazon that they might soon deliver packages by a drone — it was probably said as an attention getter, but drones are now a part of modern farming and that isn't a joke!

There have been stories telling of the use of drones in agriculture today and the potential of using them to aid in crop scouting of fields to better view growth conditions and fertilizer or chemical or insecticide needs. I really expected a host of exhibitors to be at the show displaying their drones but there was only one: DMZ LLC of Prairie du Sac, WI, and its two owners.

Young but experienced

The owners, cousins Mitchell and Zach Fiene, are young entrepreneurs with an understanding of precision agriculture, experience in crop scouting and a knowledge of technology — high technology.

Mitchell is 19 years old and a sophomore at UW–Whitewater and Zach is a recent business graduate of UW–LaCrosse, both are seemingly brilliant technology and precision ag whizzes with the ambition and know how to start a company. Their small company, DMZ LLC, not only builds and sells drones but also markets "Yield Link," (patent pending) an information transfer system and Bio Stimulant a plant growth stimulant.

Their exhibit was always crowded and I suspect the most interesting to attendees because of how the prospect of drones revolutionizing crop scouting in the future. Think: Getting an aerial view of a field from above, see the dry spots, wet spots, corn needing fertilizer, insects working and on and on ... all things it's hard to see while walking through or trying to walk through a corn field.

A view from above

UAV is a term most farmers, nor I, are familiar with prior, but now know that it means Unmanned Aerial View like seeing things from a satellite or a drone. In this case a drone, that little flying thing, controlled from the ground that can see the field and crop growing there in detail.

The little camera provides video that (in the case of DMZ) can be transferred to the Cloud, then to a computer, I Phone, I Pad or whatever via "Yield Link."

There are still rules and regulations to be written for the full-fledged use of drones in agriculture but they can and are being used. DMZ LLC will explain, see their web site dmzaerial.com, e-mail them at dmzaerial@gmail.com or call 606-370-3279.

How did two men so young, one only 19 years old, get involved in such complicated technology? Partly because Mitchell's dad, Larry Fiene, is a longtime business manager for WinField Solutions, a Land O'Lakes company and provider of agricultural inputs.

"Mitchell and his cousin Zach, rode with me from an early age when I inspected fields," Larry says. "They set up their own crop scouting service and looked at thousands of acres of crops and saw the needs and possibilities in agriculture."

They have worked closely with the Dakota Precision Ag Center at Devils Lake, ND, which was established under North Dakota's Center of Excellence initiative to foster high quality research, and respond to private-sector need for product-related research and development, Larry explains. "DMZ is small but is ahead of many other companies entering the precision ag technology field," he says.

They are coming

My guess ... every crop farmer will be using drones utilized through their own purchase or through a crop scout representing a cooperative or independent crop needs supplier. This will begin to happen big time this year and will be used everywhere within two years. I'll bet on it!

This will change agriculture as we know it and as with the advent of milking machines, hay balers, the tractor and even electricity, we'll wonder how we got along without it.

I remember the story of the Clark County agent (decades prior to my tenure there) who over worked himself trying to get farmers to install electricity. Many didn't see the need, after all, they had perfectly good lanterns and lamps. But, of course, they eventually did.

It's called change and if it works, it stays ... and drones do work.

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at jfodairy@chorus.net.

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