This article appeared in The Southern Illinoisan on August 23, 2016. You may access the original article here.
COBDEN — Farmers and others interested in agriculture gathered Sunday evening at the Old Feed Store in Cobden to start a conversation on the future of farming. The event was the third and final installment of “Seeding Change,” a series of conversations on the future of farming.
Matt Meacham, program coordinator for Illinois Humanities, facilitated the event.
Speakers included: Simon King, who grew up on a farm in rural Michigan and is now the director of the Carnegie Mellon University Design Center; Michael Plumer of rural Creal Springs, a consultant on conservation agriculture and former University of Illinois Extension educator in agriculture and natural resources; and Wayne Sirles, president and co-owner of Rendleman Orchards near Alto Pass who serves on numerous agricultural boards and committees.
King talked about how farming has changed and role of technology in farming.
“The principles of farming today would be very familiar to our ancestors, but the practices are very different,” King said.
The increase in population in the last 100 years has increased the need for food and food production. As a result, yields have increased 800 percent in the last century. That need spurred great technological advances. Today’s innovations include: data-driven agriculture, which uses sensors and computers to monitor field and crop conditions; self-driving tractors; and farm drones that can monitor crops or create maps for chemical use.
“But are they actually good for the average farmer?” King asked.
Plumer works mostly with farms between 15,000 and 40,000 acres. He said we have to increase our food production if we are going to feed the world’s population, adding that U.S. farmers are the most efficient in the world.
“We also have to look at the economics. Is it economical and feasible?” Plumer said.
Plumer also talked about the willingness of farmers to share knowledge and information with others, using blogs like Ag Talk as an example. That willingness to share extends to Ghana, where farmers have learned to employ no-till farming methods and other advances to increase their profits from $400 to $2,200.
Sirles is a fifth generation farmer. The operation at Rendleman Orchards handles everything from growing, packing, marketing and shipping to grocery stores. In addition to their well-known peaches and apples, they also grow vegetables to sell and operate a farm store.
“Union County happens to be one of the most diverse agricultural counties in Illinois,” Sirles said.
Sirles also explained how Rendleman Orchards uses cover crops to sustain their environment and maintain their soil on their hilly farm and how they use GPS to help guide soil sampling and create maps for chemical use.
“Farmers are some of the most adaptable people I know because the weather rules our lives,” Sirles said.
The talks were followed by a question and answer period. A meal was locally sourced by The Old Feed Store. Musicians Wil Maring and Robert Bowlin provided music before the event and during dinner.