by Joan Smedinghoff
October 27, 2017
John Clough harvests soybeans with his brother Justin in a pair of combines in Caroline County, Md., on Oct. 18, 2017. An illuminated screen gives Clough real-time information such as yield and moisture averages that allow him to make adjustments to the harvest.
As farming techniques have changed with time, so too have the tools of the trade. Nowadays, machines contain sensors that can track all kinds of data for farmers, creating maps and records of what has been planted and allowing farmers to adjust practices as needed.
For example, some machines allow grain farmers to measure the moisture level of crop as they are harvesting, letting them know while they are still in the field if they need to allow the grain to dry or if they can go ahead and store it. They can also create soil maps, which help farmers to analyze a field’s soil composition to determine if they need to use fertilizer, what kind and how much they need.
Fertilizers—either synthetic or from animal manure—help give plants the nutrients the need to grow, but when they are over applied, they can wash off fields into waterways. There, they can fuel the growth of algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses and, during decomposition, rob the water of oxygen that plants and animals need to survive. According to 2010 estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, synthetic fertilizers and manure account for over 36 percent of the nitrogen and 45 percent of the phosphorous entering the Bay.
Learn more about the effects of agriculture and what farmers are doing to reduce pollution.