AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY CONTINUES WITH TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS

Cathryn Kerns experienced it for the first time as a guest of the Double Rafter Cattle Drive excursion — the flawless integration of old and new in the agriculture industry. Now married to a sixth generation representative of the business, Kerns plays a part in bringing the industry into the future while honoring the past.

Technological advancements have greatly impacted all industries in the world today, but the agriculture sectors of farming and ranching have seen significant improvements in cost- and time-saving mechanisms that continue to feed and clothe an ever-growing population.

These advancements lead to more efficient practices that keep up with market demands, keep costs low for both producers and consumers and allow millennials to carry on the legacies of past generations in family businesses with a tech twist..

TECH SAVES TIME

Before the internet became a tool kept in a back pocket, Dana Kerns would hand-write and individually stamp 3,000 postcards to potential buyers of his beef each year. The postcards eventually moved into print advertisements in local papers. Now, Dana Kerns receives inquiries primarily by email each day. Even sending out informational brochures to potential clients is a thing of the past.

Beyond paperwork, the use of drones saves Kerns and his sons trips down to check on cattle throughout the day. Instead of riding miles to each grazing area, Kerns zips a drone with a camera out to each location and checks to see if a visit is necessary, turning a two-hour trip into a 15-minute check-up.

“You can go spend your efforts doing other things,” Kerns said. “The drone has got a very, very active place in agriculture.” “And it’s becoming more and more popular,” added Taylor Kerns, one of Dana Kerns’ sons and owner of Truly/Beef cattle company with his wife, Cathryn.

KEEPING IT RELEVANT

For the newest generation of ag industry leaders, the desire to keep family businesses relevant and profitable have pushed ag business suppliers to up their game, too. Global Positioning System software in ear tags for livestock and tractors for harvesting transformed tasks from needing three to four warm bodies to one, and even those farmers and ranchers are being replaced with the potential for self-driving vehicles on the horizon.

The way your grandpa used to do it is not sustainable today, Sheridan College agriculture professor Chuck Holloway said. But, with generations working together, the industry remains a relevant line of work for future generations.

“There’s been a real awakening in regards to overall environmental stewardship,” Holloway said.

By utilizing advances in technology and information regarding crop and land sustainability, producers not only save money but ensure job security for the next generation.

“The only control you have as a producer are input costs,” Holloway said. “And if you can reduce your input costs, have a crop of equal or greater value, you’re paying the bank and you’re also trending toward sustainability.”

SAFETY FIRST

Other advancements in safety and wellbeing have also been established. For example, it is inevitable for livestock to occasionally suffer injury or illness throughout their lifetime. Instead of pumping antibiotics into the cattle, the Kerns family utilizes advanced technology by first researching symptoms of the livestock online and finding alternative ways to nurse the animal back to health. The use of minerals has become increasingly popular in the ranching industry, and the Kerns family has seen animals restored to health without a drop of antibiotics administered.

When Dana Kerns finds a sick animal, instead of always carting the animal immediately to a veterinarian’s office, he instead snaps a picture of the affected area on the animal and sends it to his veterinarian to see if a trip is necessary.

Side-by-side vehicles have replaced lines of mules taking supplies in and out of cow camps during cattle drives in the Bighorn Mountains with Double Rafter.

Those trips, too, are planned between Cathryn Kerns and her mother-in-law, Alice, through the use of Google Docs, spreadsheets and telephone calls — all inventions foreign to the first-generation cattle drivers.

Ashleigh Fox — The Sheridan Press | Cathryn Kerns uses Google Docs to plan a cattle drive Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. The Kerns use technology daily to run their ranch businesses.

TEACHING AG TODAY

Dana Kerns still fights with technology on occasion, sitting frustrated in front of a computer screen with nobody around to answer his questions. For the most part, Kerns leaves the spreadsheets to his sons and continues on with the skills he mastered long ago.

“It’s a really cool learning process for both generations,” Sheridan College agriculture faculty Brett Burke said. “With the technology we have, the younger generations might lose the vision of what their preceding generations had to go through to get information and to make decisions.”

Burke said the accessibility of information helps students and those already working in the industry learn the most recent data, commodity prices and trends with a simple turn of the radio dial. Video technology not only improves classroom education but also helps those selling cattle to keep livestock safe from sickness contracted from close-contact traveling by semi-truck or train to sale barns throughout the country.

KEEPING CONNECTED

While unrestricted access to information helps in some ways, it hinders farmers and ranchers in other ways. Internet fads and sensationalized stories report mistreatment of animals and unethical growing practices.

Farmers and ranchers work to combat misrepresentations by engaging the consumer through social media. Cathryn Kerns utilizes several forms of social media to keep consumers engaged while also marketing the family’s products. Videos, photos and explanations are accessible by clicking through the company website. Getting face-to-face with next week’s dinner is as easy as visiting the Truly/Beef Instagram feed.

Social media has also transformed the way Shiloh Valley Family Farm conducts business. Theresa Shaw, the matriarch of the Shaw family, curates content and facilitates consumer interactions through the farm’s Facebook page. By introducing social media into the small family business, Shaw said connections with consumers become more substantial, and fallacies about the mistreatment of animals are dispelled.

“With social media, people want to know where the food comes from,” Shaw said. “When I’m posting on Instagram…it helps people to know what we’re really about.”

Shaw said even with just a snapshot of a family member or animal, the consumer is able to better understand and appreciate the source of their food.

“Being able to share that information directly from the source (helps spread the truth about our business),” Cathryn Kerns said. “Instagram, for example, has been amazing. People don’t know, but they want to know.”.”

AG FOREVER

What may seem like an archaic form of livelihood to some is a tually an industry packed with potential for growth through technological advancement. Families like the Kerns and Shaws appreciate carrying traditions of simplicity through a classic cattle drive on horseback or hand-feeding farm animals. These families also see the benefit of bringing technology into their businesses to expedite certain functions, thus keeping costs down for consumers.

Using technology also keeps consumers engaged with the producer and allows for consumers to interact and learn about the product they are purchasing. Though generations may never fully understand or appreciate each other’s ways of management, they can work together to continue producing for generations to come.

Courtesy photo| Cathryn Kerns
Ranchers work cattle Wednesday, July 4, 2018. The Kerns family uses advanced technology in the drives while also sticking with traditional methods of cattle driving through the Bighorn Mountains.

By |Oct. 30, 2018|

About the Author:

Ashleigh Fox joined The Sheridan Press in October 2016 as the public safety and city government reporter before moving into the managing editor position in November 2018. She is a native of Colorado and graduated from Biola University in Los Angeles, CA. Before working in Sheridan, she worked as a sports editor for the Sidney Herald in Sidney, Montana. Email Ashleigh at: ashleigh.fox@thesheridanpress.com

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