By LaVell Winsor, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer
LaVell and her husband, Andy, have two children and grow corn and soybeans near Grantville, Kansas. She manages all the farm’s grain sales. LaVell also works as a consultant, helping other farmers improve their risk-management tools.
My husband and I are the third generation to live and work on our farm. A lot has changed since the 1940s when our farm began. Today, we focus on raising corn, soybeans and wheat. My father-in-law and brother-in-law also raise cattle and hay crops.
Our focus on these areas has taken a full seven decades to hone. With every generation, we’ve advanced our knowledge and understanding of the land. Today, we have the data to know what’s going on in each of our fields — practically down to the square inch.
Our farm began employing techniques like grid mapping about 20 years ago. Grid mapping breaks up a large field into three- or four-acre sections. Within these grids, we can take soil samples and know how the field’s nutrient levels change. We can apply more fertilizer to one grid and less fertilizer to another, as needed. This technique helps save us money, and helps ensure we’re only applying what our fields and crops tell us is required.
Along with grid mapping, we also use yield maps to see where the crop yields are higher or lower. This helps us identify where our farming practices need to be adjusted for the next year. We also use yield maps to test new products or techniques. For example, we applied a specific fungicide to one area of the field, and it averaged about 10 bushels to the acre more than areas that didn’t receive that treatment. In the coming years, that will help us determine if it’s a worthwhile investment to use again.
We are also using technology like automatic shutoff to conserve water. We can tell our irrigation monitors to shut off after a single pass across the field. In fact, we can communicate to our irrigation equipment from our smart phones without having to drive to the field at all. The crops get only what they need, and we’re free to get other work done.
In previous generations, field irrigation might have been done using sprayers that rained down water on the growing plants. Today, we can set our equipment up to water at the right height for the plant so less water is wasted to evaporation.
The safety of our farm has improved over the years too. My husband joined the family farm just as new herbicides were becoming available. My father-in-law still talks about how lucky he felt that his son was able to work with safe — and effective — products.
Our machinery and equipment is now built with safety features our great grandfathers couldn’t even imagine. It makes driving a large combine just about as safe as a mid-size car on a highway. When generations of family are farming together, the most important part of the business is the family. Our goal is to see each other grow and thrive.
These advances over previous generations are undoubtedly a great benefit to the farmers, like us, who use them. Yet, they also serve consumers, like you. The end result is a grocery store full of safe, affordable food for all our families.