Washington Wheat Farmers Use the Best Technology to Produce the Best Wheat
by Jonelle Foutz
Do you ever think about the food you eat? Where did it come from? How was it grown? With concerns about food safety, pesticide use and water shortages, more people today are asking questions about their food. And with the global population expected to increase by 2 billion people in the next 35 years, today’s farmers must find ways to grow more food while protecting the environment and our natural resources.
Washington wheat farmers are using science, information and technology to meet these challenges. It’s called precision agriculture and it’s how Washington wheat farmers are producing some of the best wheat in the world, using less land and fewer resources.
Washington is the fourth largest wheat-producing state in the nation. The Washington wheat industry supports more than 11,000 jobs and contributes more than $2 billion to the state’s economy. Most Washington wheat is grown in Eastern Washington where the warm sunny days and cool nights are ideal for soft white wheat production. Used mainly in bakery products such as cookies, cakes and pastries, Washington’s soft white wheat is recognized around the world for its exceptional quality. Washington is the leading exporter of soft white wheat, with 85-90 percent of the state’s crop going to Japan, The Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia and Yemen. Washington also produces hard red winter wheat, hard red spring wheat and hard white wheat.
Across the state, more than 2.3 million acres of wheat are planted on family owned and operated farms. And while many of those family farms have been passed down for generations, the average wheat farmer today is highly skilled, college-educated and connected to technology in more ways than ever before.
Within a single wheat field, growing conditions can vary greatly just a few yards apart. Precision agriculture combines site-specific information and advanced technologies that allow Washington farmers to produce more wheat per acre than other states.
One of the most powerful advances in agriculture technology is yield mapping. Yield mapping technology allows farmers to analyze their crop yields, identify differences in production rates, and make adjustments to provide the optimal growing conditions for each identified zone.
To create a yield map, the farmer collects information using crop yield monitors and a global positioning system (GPS). The crop yield monitor measures the amount of wheat harvested and the GPS uses satellite signals to track the exact location where the yield measurements were taken. The data is entered into a computer program that creates a detailed map of high-yield and low-yield zones. Specialized sensors can also detect differences in moisture and mineral content in the soil, the presence of weeds or insects, and even differences in light reflection on the crop. The result is a customized map that gives the farmer powerful information and the ability to manage all the variables in ways that increase crop yields and efficiencies while decreasing costs and environmental impacts.
With that crop yield information in hand, wheat farmers using GPS guidance systems can operate seeding and spraying equipment with as little as one inch of overlap. On-board computers allow them to instantly adjust the amount of seed, fertilizer, herbicide or insecticide applied in each zone, ensuring the right amount is applied in the right location. This precision drastically reduces waste and the unnecessary application of chemicals.
Along with innovations in high-tech farm machinery and equipment, farmers are using specialized apps on their smartphones and tablets to monitor weather patterns, calculate spray application rates, track costs and manage equipment remotely.
Precision agriculture allows our state’s farmers to produce the healthiest wheat crops in the world while maintaining a healthy environment and ensuring the Washington wheat industry continues to provide food, jobs and economic growth for our future. To learn more about high-tech farming in Washington state, visit www.letsgrowtogether.ws.
(This article by Jonelle Foutz, was published by The Seattle Times – Newspapers in Education, on April 20th, 2016. The Seattle Times-Newspapers in Education (NIE) currently serves over 39,000 students and nearly 1,000 educators in Washington state.)
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