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Precision ag helps farmers handle growing opportunities

JAMESTOWN -- Howard Dahl of Amity Technology says precision agriculture will allow farmers to do things they've never done before. Dahl talked about precision ag around the world at the fifth annual Precision Ag Summit held this week in Jamestown...

Sreekala Bajwa, North Dakota State University’s Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department chairwoman, talked about using precision ag to feed the world’s growing population at the fifth annual Precision Ag Summit in Jamestown. Trevor Peterson/The Forum
Howard Dahl of Amity Technology talked about precision ag around the world at the fifth annual Precision Ag Summit in Jamestown. (Trevor Peterson/The Forum)

JAMESTOWN -- Howard Dahl of Amity Technology says precision agriculture will allow farmers to do things they've never done before.

Dahl talked about precision ag around the world at the fifth annual Precision Ag Summit held this week in Jamestown.

Because of precision ag, Dahl said strides are being made in water utilization where water is scarce. It's also helping farmers use less fertilizer -- saving money and the environment -- when they use it in the right amount, at the right time, in the right place, he said.

"China is probably the greatest opportunity for precision ag being applied" because farmers there use twice as much fertilizer as they need to, he said.

Farmers have traditionally managed their farms with experience and gut-instincts, he said, but technology is making everything from planting to applying chemicals more precise.

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Precision ag can save up to 30 percent of fertilizer costs, Dahl said.

"It's almost always going to be a cost savings and should be an increased yield by putting on the right amount of fertilizer," he said.

Sreekala Bajwa, North Dakota State University's Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department chairwoman, talked about using precision ag to feed the world's growing population.

"Today there are 800 million people who are not getting enough food or who are in poverty," she said. "That's not because we are not producing enough food."

It has to do with accessibility and affordability, Bajwa said.

Population growth, climate change, the growing middle class and fewer people living in rural areas and farming the land are all contributing to food insecurity, she said.

Energy demands and waste disposal problems are growing, she said. And 70 percent of water demand goes into agriculture worldwide, which Bajwa said is expected to increase.

Precision ag can help address those issues by increasing food production and conserving and protecting resources, she said. It can also help farmers adapt to climate changes and it can help provide diverse and nutritious food choices.

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The world's population is estimated to grow by another 2.25 billion to 9.6 billion people by 2050, she said.

"That means we'll have another 2.3 billion mouths to feed," Bajwa said. "But it also brings opportunities. As we are a major agricultural state, it's an opportunity to produce more food."

It's also an opportunity for research, trade, innovation, partnerships with other countries and industries, and to improve production efficiency, she said.

Farmers said it's important to attend events like the summit to stay on top of current technology and learn how it can impact their farms.

Roger Zetocha farms and has a small cow-calf operation near Stirum, N.D., in Sargent County. He's also president of the Sargent County Farmers Union. He said he's attended every Precision Ag Summit so far.

"I didn't start farming yesterday," he said. "Technology, it's a moving target. I just felt if I didn't keep up, I'd be further behind than I probably already am compared to the young people."

Precision ag is becoming more important every year, he said.

"The cost of production is important, especially in these down years with the prices being down so we've got to watch every nickel," Zetocha said.

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More farmers are using precision agriculture in their operations, but Dahl said the tools need to get simpler.

"That will happen but it's got to be simple for the farmers to utilize it," he said. "Better software and better sensors will allow that to take place."

The summit, hosted by the North Dakota Farmers Union and the Red River Valley Research Corridor, drew about 250 people.

Related Topics: JAMESTOWNAGRICULTURE
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