By Shen Lu, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University
This story is published through a partnership between Farm Journal and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
The Durdan Farm of Streator, Illinois, is one of a small number of progressive crop producers that has fully embraced cutting-edge technology, using big data and information management in the farm operation.
The fifth-generation farm operates on 10,000 acres of corn and soybeans in central Illinois. Beyond frequent upgrades of farm machineries, it spends about $90,000 on data subscriptions and analytics.
“If you look at the next 20 years, we are going have to feed more people than ever, basically 10,000 years’ worth of farm output is going to have to be produced to meet the demand," said Justin Durdan, co-owner of the farm and a self-proclaimed technology enthusiast . "And the only way that we are going to be able to do that is through technology.”
Durdan’s newest farming assistant is a John Deere sprayer that allows operators to precisely place nitration in the field where it needs to be. He said the two-year-old technology has helped increase productivity by 10 percent while saving inputs.
What the Durdan farm is doing, experts say, is the future of farming. Many crop producers are somewhat exposed to high technology, but only about five percent of U.S. farmers are able to take full advantage of the big data, said Dan Cekander, a grain market analyst with Chicago-based DC Analysis.
“To me it’s in its infancy,” said Cekander, who is a farm owner himself.
He explained that there is not yet a platform that aggregates data from all stakeholders of agriculture - farmers, seed companies, fertilizer suppliers, etc - to make it useful.
“Getting all of these different areas to communicate, that has been one of the drawbacks in making progress with big data,” Cekander said.
But Cekander said he believes that technological developments will solve the complication, and all the information out there will eventually help more farmers make better decisions in farming.
Durdan said he is grateful that his father, co-owner of the farm, has given him full freedom to try cutting-edge technology in farming. He hopes his three children will carry on the explorer spirit and expand the family business.