A Dual Farmer’s Perspective on Sustainability and Tech in Agriculture
By 2050, the global population is expected to reach 10 billion, requiring the world’s farmers to produce 50 percent more food. Annie Dee of Dee River Ranch is one of those farmers helping bring more food to the table for consumers. She transformed her family farm into a modern row crop and beef cattle operation, spanning 10,000 acres. Committed to innovation, Dee is an agricultural advocate and continually seeks new ways to farm sustainably and profitably.
My journey didn’t begin on a farm, but I loved working outdoors and seeing things grow. Like many farming operations, family is at the heart of our farm’s story. I’ve come a long way from painting and sanding the gates on my parents’ farm. As a mother, I hope that the hard work we’re doing now will help the next generation keep our farm going better than ever. Our legacy is in the land that we protect and grow. I’m incredibly passionate about sustainable agriculture and helping others become better producers.
My farm is in an area where dual-farms like mine aren’t very common. Most growers either have row crops or animal/aquaculture operations. Too many different operations going at the same time makes it difficult for a farmer to excel at any one of them, which is a common misconception - dual farms are easily managed simultaneously. However, having a property that straddles both Alabama and Mississippi, we have very short dry spells. This allows for a small window of time to get the crops planted. This means that often, both the cattle and fields need tending, and it’s challenging to focus on both operations.
Sustainable farming practices and technology help us successfully manage these competing priorities for our mixed crop-livestock operations. Using best management practices at my Ranch, we apply herbicides and pesticides only as recommended by our crop advisors.
We have a heavy emphasis on using cover crops. This builds our soil’s organic matter and increases the water holding capacity. That makes more water available for the plants during the growing season. Cover crops reduce erosion, holding the soil and nutrients in place so they aren’t washed into water or blown into the air. Incorporating radish and turnip in our cover crop mix helps reduce soil compaction. As a result, we have seen great benefits in crop yield following cover crops.
We also have been practicing reduced tillage and no-till for over 20 years. This has improved our soil structure, earthworm population, bacteria and fungi in the soil. The earthworms provide spaces for roots to travel through the soil and carry nutrients up and down the soil profile.
Investing in technology plays an incredible role in growing food that’s sustainable and profitable. We’ve integrated technology into so many aspects of our farm. From the grain bin manager that automatically regulates temperature and moisture to the state-of-the-art irrigation pumps that ensure no excess energy wasted, technology makes our operation more efficient. Pumps and pivots for irrigation are controlled with a click of a button.
Yet technology is not only helping with our corps, maintaining and managing the health of our animals is also very critical. For instance, we’ve placed an Electronic Identification Device (EID) in all cattle ears to identify and keep health records in our computer system. Additionally, we have cattle scales to weigh our animals, which can help us spot health concerns early.
There are several emerging technologies that I believe will continue to improve our operation such as innovative applications and nanotechnology tools that address soil testing, or crop scouting and tissue sampling which will help farmers big and small increase productivity.
Farmers are accustomed to figuring out ways to do more with less. In my experience, bringing together both crop and livestock has presented many obstacles that have led to discovering innovative ways to make a difference on our farm as I’m sure are helping other farmers. Formidable things are happening in sustainable farming and seeing the technology advancements is why I’m very optimistic and excited about the future of agriculture.