Bringing landscapes to life

Playing in the sand can be serious business.

Just ask MFA Incorporated’s Precision Agronomy Department Manager Thad Becker and MFA agronomists. They have created an “augmented reality” sandbox that’s more than child’s play.

This hands-on exhibit combines a tabletop sandbox, a Microsoft Kinect 3D camera, powerful simulation software and a data projector to create interactive topography models. Users mold the sand by hand, and the landscape comes to life. The peaks and valleys of the sand shapes are augmented in real time by an elevation color map, topographic contour lines and simulated water. The system teaches geographic, geologic, and hydrologic concepts such as the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, levees, etc.

The augmented reality sandbox was originally developed by the University of California, Davis, with funds from the National Science Foundation, and the software to power the system is a free open-source download from the university. Becker and staff agronomists built the sandbox and worked with MFA Information Technology personnel to put the technology together for the exhibit.

The interactive display debuted at MFA’s Winter Buyers Market in January, where it was a popular stop for visitors, and the precision agronomy team took the sandbox to the Western Farm Show Feb. 23-25 in Kansas City. They also plan to use it in future producer meetings and training events.

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Year of the Tractor

The oldest existing John Deere plow, a 1918 Waterloo Boy tractor and a first-generation GPS receiver are all part of a new exhibition to celebrate the “Year of the Tractor” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

To mark the 100th anniversary of John Deere’s entry into the tractor market, the museum opened two new temporary displays that celebrate the past, present and future of agriculture. As part of the commemoration, an iconic green, yellow and red 1918 Waterloo Boy tractor will be on view at the entrance to the museum’s “American Enterprise” exhibition. Deere and Company acquired the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. in March 1918, introducing farmers to lightweight, mass-produced tractors. This major revolution in agriculture moved farming firmly into the realm of commercial production.

The Waterloo Boy will be showcased with historic images and advertisements that marketed the then-new technology to help convince farmers to shift from animal power and labor-intensive production to gasoline-powered tractors.

The American Enterprise exhibition also includes a new precision farming display focused on technology that helped launch a different agriculture revolution. Objects and information in the display will tell the story of how farmers have adapted to precision technology—even the use of drones—that is changing agricultural practices in fundamental ways.

Key objects showcased in “Precision Farming” include a GPS receiver, a crop yield monitor from 1996 and a cow neck tag with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. The display also features four stories of farmers engaged in precision farming.

Throughout the “Year of the Tractor,” the museum will also incorporate tractor history, agriculture and innovation programming into its offerings for the public. For more information on the exhibition, visit: http://bit.ly/AmericanEnterprise.

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Missouri Farmer to lead Army Corps of Engineers

A Missouri farmer and civil engineer, R.D. James, has been selected to serve as assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, a role in which he will oversee the U.S. Corps of Engineers among other responsibilities.

The post is important for the nation’s commerce, especially agriculture. In his new role, James will establish policy direction and provide supervision of programs for conservation and development of water and wetland resources, flood control, navigation and shore protection.

A native of Fulton County, Ky., James and his family have had farming, ginning and grain elevator operations in the Missouri Bootheel for decades. He served on the Mississippi River Commission for 37 years, first appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. In that position, James helped lead the organization charged with improving the condition, fostering navigation, promoting commerce and preventing destructive floods in the nation’s most important waterway for shipment of goods.

He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate Jan. 25 and sworn in Feb. 5 as assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works. In announcing the confirmation, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “R.D. James understands the importance of our inland waterways system. He has an impressive background and is the right person to address our nation’s water infrastructure needs.

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About Today's Farmer magazine

Today's Farmer is published 9 times annually. Printed issues arrive monthly except combined issues for June/July, August/September and December/January. Subscriptions are available only in the United States.

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