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Too much technology or too little?

Tom J. Bechman sprayer
TOO FAR-FETCHED? Why couldn’t someone invent a device that prevents the sprayer from spraying if the wrong chemical is in the tank?
Do we need more technology to help us from messing up the technology we have?

A farmer who recently tried out a tractor pulling a tillage tool equipped to adjust five parts of the machine on the go automatically was conflicted. “There are too many electronics in the cab,” he told me. “I wouldn’t want that machine with all that electronic stuff.”

“Didn’t you like changing the disc gang angle from the cab?” I asked.

“Yes, but I just want to make those adjustments manually from the cab,” he replied.

Wait a minute, I thought. Isn’t this the same friend who 15 years ago wouldn’t get off a tour wagon to look at an autosteer tractor because he said it would never become practical? Within two years, he was driving a tractor with autosteer, and today, you couldn’t get it away from him.

I acknowledge I am far more fascinated writing about technology than using it. My 11-year-old grandson knows how to do way more things on my cellphone than I do. Frankly, I don’t care. Cellphones are for talking. But they are also good for taking pictures. You can’t tell which photos I take with my trusty Nikon and which were snapped with a smartphone. State 4-H finally added a category for cellphone pictures. The truth is, many pictures in regular exhibits that kids display are already taken with cellphone cameras.

Here’s an example where technology overload is complicating farming instead of simplifying it. My agronomist and farmer friends tell me there were far too many cases this year where a farmer or retailer forgot which herbicide technology was planted in a soybean field and sprayed the wrong chemical. It’s not a matter of dinging the beans with a hot mix of Blazer and waiting for them to recover, like in the old days.

Seek solutions

If you spray Enlist soybeans with dicamba, they will die, guaranteed, and vice versa. The remedy isn’t giving them time, it’s replanting them if you still have time.

Flagging fields with a distinct color for each type of chemistry has been tried before. Maybe it’s time to try it again. More than one farmer this summer has suggested the following solution. Let simplicity be the guide: Any bag of dicamba soybeans carries a big number 1 on it; Enlist beans get a 2, Roundup Ready get a 3, and so on.

Others say just require a giant E on the bag for Enlist. Others say add a tag with huge letters that spell out which active ingredients you can and can’t spray on the beans in the seed bag.

I came up with another idea. Technology made things more complicated and created this conundrum. Why not let more technology solve it?

How? Invent a device that lives inside the control system inside the computer of the sprayer. Tell it which technology of soybeans was planted in the field. Program in which chemicals can be applied safely and which can’t. If someone fills the tank with the wrong chemical, a sensor alerts the device inside the computer, and it won’t allow the sprayer to start.

Impossible? Maybe, maybe not. After all, I only use technology, I don’t really understand it. But if they can invent a device that prevents someone who is inebriated from starting a car, why can’t they invent someone from turning on a sprayer if the spray tank is filled with the wrong chemical?

Too much technology? Maybe time will tell.

Comments? Email [email protected].

TAGS: Technology
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