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High Tech Has Produced the Renaissance Farmer

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Aaron Geiman of North Carroll High School is preparing ag students for today's high tech agricultural environment.

Agri-sciences teacher Aaron Geiman, of North Carroll High School, Hampstead, is on a mission to dispel the stereotype of the unsophisticated, bib-overall-wearing farmer. For him, Old MacDonald's farm is a vestige of a bygone era.

To operate a successful, profitable farm today, said Geiman, requires a farmer who is also an environmentalist, certified pesticide/herbicide specialist, tech-savvy equipment operator,  modern business manager, bio-chemist, horticulturalist, plant/animal biologist, commodities marketer and more.

Geiman should know. At North Carroll, he teaches Introduction to Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Animal Science, Plant Science, Animal and Plant Biotechnology, and Agricultural Mechanical Technology.

The ag science program at North Carroll is considered one of the most advanced programs in Maryland, and ranks high nationally, as well.

The reason: its course of studies is based on the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education, or CASE Model, said Geiman.

CASE is a product of the National Council for Agricultural Education (NCAE), which sets standards for increasing the depth and sophistication of agricultural education programs.

Although the eight core courses of CASE focus on the basic sciences behind agriculture, it also links lessons to national standards for agriculture, science, math and English language arts.

“It is a preparation for a scientific career, a college preparation pathway for agriculture students that is essentially science education taught with an agricultural focus. We get into pH-testing and cellular biology,” said Geiman. “Our program culminates in the bio-tech class, where we actually bio-engineer a bacteria.”    

In the 1980s, agricultural students were taught basic mechanics and memorized the dates for planting of various crops, Geiman said. Agricultural education today requires teaching a superior scientific curriculum aimed at creating a modern agriculturalist.

“We are using microscopes, centrifuges, electrophoresis chambers and much of the same technology used by CSI investigators to identify criminals,” said Geiman. “We use it to identify the genetic traits we want. If you go to the Maryland State Police Forensic Science Laboratory in Pikesville, and look at the equipment they are using, you will see the exact same tools we use in the classroom to teach kids agriculture.”

Technological innovations found on the latest-model farm tractors include such equipment as a GPS, which allows one machine with one operator to do the work of two machines and two operators, Geiman said. Unlike the past, where anybody could be easily taught how to operate farm machinery, today's agriculturalist must be trained in technology.

“Technology has increased our environmental stewardship,” said Geiman. “Obviously, the chemical  pollution levels of the past have decreased a lot and that has helped the environment. Technology has also decreased the cost of chemicals by precisely targeting the amount of fertilizers and pesticides applied to fields.”

Harvest data accumulated by GPS and GIS (Geographic Information System) hardware and software allows farmers to determine spots in the field related to fertility and to adjust seeding density and the amount of fertilizers required on specific field locations, said Geiman.

Technology is not only changing how seeding, planting, fertilizing, irrigating and harvesting are conducted in the field, it is also changing the face of the dairy industry. Modern dairy parlors feature robotic milking machines, for example, said Geiman.

Other hardware and software allows cattle ranchers to use ultrasonography to increase the production of feed lots drastically and to analyze the exact weight and mass of cattle to determine the best time to send the animals for processing.

“Technology is being used to increase food production to meet the food supply demands of the future,”said Geiman. “Right now, we don't have enough food production to feed an estimated population of 9 billion people by 2050. If we don't find a way to increase production in the next 35 years we will be facing a worldwide famine.”

Lippy Brothers Inc. in Hampstead, the largest grain and vegetable farming operation in the state, is well known for its use of technology to increase production, lower production costs, reduce environmental impact and manage related agricultural production expenses.

A family-owned dairy farm, it was incorporated in 1951 by Ed, Joe and Wilson Lippy. In 1965, the youngest brother, Donald, joined the operation.

With 2,000 acres of owned and 8,000 acres of leased land, the operation produces harvest hay, straw, corn, wheat, soybeans, barley and snap beans.

Managed through the use of an approved conservation and nutrient plan, the farm, which employs 26 full-time personnel, controls its use of fertilizers and pesticides using technology, said Marshall White, nutrient management and GIS specialist for the farm.

Lippy Brothers is considered an “early adopter” of agricultural technology. About 15 years ago, they started computerizing their operation. By 2001, the farm had digitized all of its field data, White said.

“I started on a part-time basis, but in 2001,” said White, “I was hired full-time to compile the (GPS/GIS) information, so we could make sense of it all.”

Called precision or decision agriculture, the methodology allows farm operators to target specific crop areas for precise applications of nutrients, among other things, White said. Because the farm is located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it is subject to strict regulations regarding the use of chemicals and control of farm runoff.

“Mother Nature still rules seeding and harvesting schedules,” said White. “Technology isn't going to change that timing, but we use the harvest data to evaluate, forecast and guide production.”

Soil testing and plant tissue sampling, (some of which must be done at least every three years according to state requirements), are completed in connection with a chemical management program. Yield monitoring is a component of GPS technology data and used for field mapping, which saves money on chemical treatments.

GIS/GPS technology allows auto-steering of field farm machinery, White said. Lippy Brothers also uses tools to evaluate the bio-tech side of the operation. The goal is sustainability.

Although technology has decreased labor demands for typical farm operations, White said, people are and will continue to be a vital part of agriculture.


Want to Learn More?
For more information on the CASE program, visit www.case4learning.org.
For more information on the agri-science program at North Carroll High School, visit www.carrollk12.org/nch/.
For more information on Lippy Brothers Inc., visit www.lippybrothersinc.com.


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