A call for more sustainable farming through technology

Recently I had a surprising epiphany on the way to drop off my daughter at school. It was a silent drive free from my usual morning drive-time radio addiction because my daughter was diligently studying for a quiz using the school’s online study tools.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it struck me at that moment that my kids have the latest, most up-to-date connectivity tools in the forms of their smartphones. They – and let’s be honest, their mother and I – would never go back to the older flip phones nor be without a phone on hand at all times.

Although we haven’t “cut the cord” on our landline, that day is coming soon. When the landline in our home rings, we all look at the caller ID with suspicion since only the telemarketers or pollsters ever use that number.

When I get annoyingly nostalgic about the ol’ days, I’m not certain which my children find more alien – the party line that we shared with my grandparents on the other side of our farmstead or the fact that we had a single rotary phone that was anchored to the desk in our farm kitchen.

None of us can contemplate why we would ever go back to less useful communication technology, because doing so would not help us accomplish the goals that we have in life.

My epiphany wasn’t about my kids’ phones; it was about the modern food system that I’ve worked in all my life – from my upbringing on the farm to my personal livestock and truck farm enterprises to my college studies to my cuTechnologyrrent work in the seed/biotechnology/crop protection industry.

It was the recognition that, like my kids and our phones, I can’t understand why some individuals in society want to go back to less useful farming technology. Like my kids and that old rotary phone and party line, these people have never used these farming technologies, but for some reason have a misguided romantic image that it’s “better” in some fashion.

It’s a bit like my late grandfather’s response to my question as a young kid about horses on the farm. Living near Amish communities, I saw horses from the school bus windows and thought they were the coolest. I knew we had old horse tack in our sheds, so horses had been part of the operation. So I asked him, “why no horses?”

Grandpa politely but firmly set me straight: “It’s because they don’t work as well as the tractors we use now. We can’t afford to farm the way my father did.”

In the years since, I’ve come to realize that our goals weren’t to spend time in the fields or the barns simply for the pleasure that I got from it as a young child. Rather, our purpose was to raise the corn, soybeans, and wheat and to produce the pork, chicken and eggs that came from those fields and that barn work.

Using the most modern tools and the latest best farming practices enabled us to do that efficiently, safely, and sustainably. Frankly, we used better technology because it was better for accomplishing our farm’s goals – managing the land for abundant crops; keeping it sustainably viable for future generations of the family, treating our livestock humanely and raising strong productive families.

So it boiled down to this: tractors, not horses (more efficient use of time); no-till farming, not plowing (less soil erosion, fewer trips across the field with equipment, cleaner air and water); herbicides, not side cultivation (less erosion, reduced tractor use, preventing future weeds); biotechnology seeds (higher yields, enabled no-till farming, less insect control needed); animal health products (humane treatment; prevention of disease); and many other tools employed in a similar way.

After dropping of my daughter at school that morning, my morning drive-time radio stayed off on my way to work. It was a thoughtful drive. I wondered then – and still ponder now – if society wants agriculture to produce food in a way that uses less fossil fuels, protects beneficial insects, generates healthier soils, sequesters carbon and greenhouse gases, keeps our water clean and provides abundant nutritious food, then why in the world shouldn’t farmers use the most up-to-date tools to accomplish those goals?

Maybe it takes a metaphorical call to every landline in America with the caller ID showing “Modern Sustainable Agriculture Solutions Calling” in order to get that message to ring true.

RekewegMattMatt Rekeweg is U.S. Industry Relations Leader for Dow AgroSciences headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. Rekeweg is also a member of the US Government Affairs Team. Raised on a corn-soybean-wheat-swine farm in northeast Indiana, Rekeweg was active in all aspects of the farming operation including his personal fruit & vegetable truck farm operation started as a 4-H project and which developed into his award-winning FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience program. Matt earned a Bachelor of Science with Highest Honors in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University. He has worked in the ag consulting and farm management industries. A former FFA State Officer, in his current community service roles, Rekeweg chairs Indiana’s Center for Agricultural Science and Heritage, serves on the Indiana State Fair Commission, and is an Assistant Scoutmaster for his son’s Boy Scout Troop.