Manitoba·Point of View

A farmer's life: working the land with modern technology

My grandfather learned to use the Keurig coffee maker in the shop office — and that's about as much technology as he needs to know.

4th-generation farmer harvesting crops for the new generation

Keenan Wiebe, his brother, uncle, father and grandfather work the land near Starbuck, MB. (Supplied/Keenan Wiebe)

On Feb. 6 and 7, the 2019 Young Farmer Conference convened in Winnipeg, to address issues that are relevant to young and beginning farmers. 

Keenan Wiebe offered his insights into the changing world of working the land.

My grandfather learned to use the Keurig coffee maker in the shop office — and that's about as much technology as he needs to know.

Growing up as a millennial, however, I have been surrounded by technology all my life, in every day life. 

One thing we do have in common is our passion for farming. A passion that's lasted four generations and counting.

My family moved to our home farm located between Starbuck and Oak Bluff, Man. in 1936. Grampa worked the land by horse and shovelled grain by hand; a lot of hard labour. 

Nowadays, in modern agriculture, farming is a lot different. It's still a lot of hard work, including long days and some stressful times, but the new technologies make our farming operations more efficient.

Horse versus the tractor

Take for example, the horse versus the tractor.

When Grandpa and his brothers first started farming, they used a team of horses or a John Deere model "D" on steel wheels to pull implements, such as a rope mechanism that would attach to the tractor and lower its load when released.

Tractors later came out with hydraulic systems. The purchase of a brand new John Deere "G" in 1949 with a hydraulic cylinder was a huge change for the farm. It allowed Grampa to move implements up or down with the push of a lever, instead of the cumbersome rope system.

Dad and Grampa Wiebe at work fixing the cultivator. For generations, Wiebe family farmers have made technology work for them. (Submitted by Keenan Wiebe)

Then more technology; by the time my dad and uncle were running the farm, we had GPS and autosteer. 

Yes, Google Maps is very handy on our phones to navigate quickest routes in the city.  But on the farm, we use GPS systems to allow the tractor to make perfectly straight lines. 

Then there's autosteer. It saves us time, fuel and crop inputs such as seed, fertilizer and chemicals, by not overlapping throughout the field. 

And it didn't stop there. New equipment comes with computers built in to monitor the machine's operation and display more information. Some software programs now give us satellite imagery, crop input and information on the soil and weather. All of this helps us save money, increase our revenue and improve record-keeping. 

Radical changes

Other equipment has also changed in radical ways. In Grampa's days, he seeded with discers — like a disc with a seed hopper on top. During dad's generation, we went to an air seeder.

In today's agriculture, we are moving to machines that plant with higher precision. 

In Grandpa's days, sprayers were non-existent or extremely basic. In dad's days, early versions of self propelled sprayers came out.  Today, sprayers come self-propelled and decked out with auto steer and sectional control. Some even give farmers the option to spray at different speeds, different rates and different water pressures with ease. 

A computer monitor is seen inside a tractor cab with a farm field in the background.
Inside the cabin of a GPS-equipped John Deere tractor. (Seth Perlman/The Associated Press)

The technology has not been limited to just the tractor or equipment either.  We've not only changed how we farm; we've changed what we farm.

Grandpa's crops usually included wheat, oats, barley and flax. When chemicals became available, crops would get one pass of herbicide.

Dad's generation added rye grass, canary seed and the new biotech crops of canola and soybeans.

Nowadays, we still grow wheat and oats, but we also grow a lot more of the biotech crops, like canola and soybeans. 

And thanks to more crop research, we now give many of our crops a fungicide spray as well, which ensures a higher quality and less damage to the grain.

New crops? Who knows?

Technology continues to advance the agriculture industry, but what will come next? Tractors that drive themselves? Sprayers that scan the field to identify and spot spray only weeds? New varieties? New crops? Who knows?

All I know is that I'm excited for the future and can't wait to see what new innovations are coming. 

As for Grampa, he's just happy to watch us figure it out with a cup of coffee. 

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

Read more opinion pieces published by CBC Manitoba.


Keenan Wiebe

for CBC Manitoba

Keenan Wiebe and his brother are carrying on the family tradition of working the land, on a farm outside Starbuck, Man. He's a fourth-generation farmer, growing grain and oilseed crops, and completed a University of Manitoba agriculture diploma in 2013.