Sunday, August 05, 2018

Computer Science and Farming

One of the things I tell students is that computer science is relevant to a lot of careers that they may not think of at first. An announcement I read last week and a visit to a farm reminded me of that this past week.

The article was about a joint effort between Microsoft and the Futures Farmers of America. (Future Farmers of America, Microsoft to develop tech-based agricultural curriculum) The FFA is an amazing group that does a lot to help prepared young people for careers in farming. Modern farming is a lot more than sticking seeds in the ground and waiting for plants to be harvested. Actually it has always been a lot more than that but technology has long had an expanding role in making farming for efficient and productive.

As I said, I also visited a farm last week. The owners are friends of mine and they are working other jobs as they build up the farm. Technology is a big part of how they manage things at the farm while not living there full time. Obviously there is we-fi available throughout the a farm. There are remotely accessed cameras and a very nice weather reporting system for starters. As I toured the farm we talked about future efforts.

One thing under consideration is RFID tags on each of the trees in their apple orchards. This would allow notes to be easily taken and recorded on the condition of individual trees. Other thoughts include computer (and remotely) controlled irrigation. Being able to pay more and better attention to individual plants or parts of a farm - precision agriculture – is something that computerization makes practical.

I’ve been reading about using computers to plan grazing patterns that make for more productive pastures, robots that scan and treat individual plants at high speed, and artificial intelligence analysis of aerial photographs of crops. I think we’re on the verge of a big jump in technology use in farming with a jump in productivity and efficacy in farming. Pretty darn cool!

1 comment:

Garth said...

In the early '80s I taught at a small rural school in central Montana (100 kids K-12). One of the ranch kids wrote a program for an FFA project (Apple IIe or TRS-80, I cannot remember which because we were using both) that balanced protein levels for cattle feed by computing the various feed grains available and the blend needed. It went semi-commercial. He gave it away free and it was used by ranches all over the state. It is amazing how much software like this is used for farming and ranching. The FFA used to have a whole study thread on computer technology even back then.

PodPi (, an Arduino curriculum for grades 5-8, has a module on building soil moisture sensors controlled by the Arduino to automatically water a garden.

The use of autonomous drones by farmers is exploding here in Montana. They use IR cameras to monitor growth, soil moisture, etc. Some have roboticized their tractors so no driver is needed when planting large fields. Cool stuff.