Survey gauges producers’ current
and future needs
| By Tasha Wells|
The National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory (NESPAL) in Tifton, Ga., recently conducted a survey of growers from around the country to gauge their attitudes to on-farm energy production and conservation. A total of more than 15,000 surveys was mailed to growers representing 32 states.
In an applied area of research, such as agriculture, it is important to continually evaluate the direction of our research program, asking ourselves if we are addressing issues relevant to growers. Farmer focus groups and surveys help us stay in touch with the end-user, who will ultimately have a large influence on the success or failure of many new developments.
The survey included three sections: 1) information systems, 2) monitoring/control, 3) energy production and farm house design.
Information systems wish list
In response to being asked what information they would like to receive that they don’t already have, one survey respondent stated, “You never know. I never dreamed of what I would be getting today. Tomorrow, I would like real-time energy budgets for the farm and home that could be accessed from my office computer or cell phone. My operation would also benefit from an automated inventory monitoring and security system.”
It was hardly surprising that the mobile phone rated highly as a device for receiving information – the wireless device has given farmers the mobility to conduct business from anywhere, anytime, and they are relatively cheap, simple to use and have a clear benefit. Many growers suggested the mobile phone as a platform for extending future wireless applications, with its intuitive interface and ability to accommodate different data formats (text, graphical and voice).
In a recent farmer focus group held by NESPAL to discuss technology in agriculture, the group expressed a desire to see more voice tools – for example, voice recognition software – that would allow growers to better utilize their time on the road or in the field. One of the participants used Jott.com, a tool that converts a “to do” list and reminders recorded using your cell phone to text messages or emails.
Monitoring and control
Using sensors to monitor environmental conditions, such as soil and weather, as well as monitoring the status of vehicles and machinery – temperature, pressure, service information and operations – was considered highly desirable.
Survey respondents were split between doing this from the office computer and the mobile phone.
Production/conservation of energy
Growers expressed a strong interest in the conservation of energy as well. One grower said, “The price of fuel is influencing the number of times we can cross the field and the way we farm. We need to become more efficient on the farm, saving time, fuel and labor whenever possible. I look to technology to help me achieve this in the future.”
Technologies that were most frequently suggested as having an impact on future energy conservation on the farm were remote monitoring and control of operations that did not require a physical presence, more fuel-efficient vehicles and advances in harvesting and planting methods and equipment.
Farm house design
House design features that were most frequently expressed by respondents as important to a farm home included energy independence and energy efficient, passive heating and cooling and efficient lighting. Other features expressed as important to the home were comfort, wireless broadband, a large mud room and lots of storage space.
Although the survey results are somewhat, if not completely, subjective and by no means statistically significant, producers expressed an eagerness for solutions to today’s energy crunch both on the farm and within the home. Farmers look to technologies to play an important role in remote monitoring and control, enhancing production practices, and developing more efficient farm machinery.
Tasha Wells is the research coordinator for NESPAL in Tifton, Ga. Contact Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org.