OKEECHOBEE — Dairy farmer Ben Butler spoke on the technology advances made in agriculture at the annual Farm City Week luncheon held Thursday at the KOA Convention center in Okeechobee.
Mr. Butler, a fourth generation farmer, started his experience in agriculture with Future Farmers of America (FFA). He said the groups always had great support in Okeechobee and he urged all of the young people on hand to take advantage of all the opportunities they are given.
“Today we celebrate what agriculture means to our nation. Okeechobee, for 100 years, is a rural town with its roots firmly planted in agriculture,” he noted.
But the question is will that continue? Development pressures continue. The markets for cattle and dairy products fluctuate almost daily, and fewer and fewer young people are staying in or getting employed in the agriculture industry.
“Statistics show the average age of a farmer is 57. A few years ago it was 55 years old. We need young people to make it sustainable,” he added.
Mr. Butler recognized many of the farmers and ranchers who have been working in the industry since the 1940s.
Several fourth, fifth, and even sixth generation agriculture workers were recognized at the luncheon.
Butler said agriculture has helped Okeechobee to preserve the environment, keep the town rural, and gives us that hometown feeling. He said while the basics of farming haven’t changed, the use of technology has.
“We must embrace technology. Today we can put bracelets on cows to see how many steps they have taken, their body temperature, even how many times they chew their cud. Technology tells us that a cow is sick even before the cow knows it is sick,” he added.
Mr. Butler said the efficiency of agriculture has improved tremendously. He predicted the advances made in technology that make agriculture easier, will encourage more people to enter the occupation. Right now only 1.5 percent of U.S. citizens are in agriculture.
Technology can shut off sprinklers and fertilizer sprays and insecticides with just an app on a cell phone. Robotic milk machines are becoming more common on small farms, a bailer knows when to stop itself when it is full, tractors can almost operate themselves.
Mr. Butler predicted that within 20 years it’ll be common to see robots milking cows in Okeechobee.
Research has also helped agriculture fight off disease, make crops more resistant to citrus greening, and create even safer and better products.
Butler also challenged the crowd to learn where their food comes from. He said the more knowledge you have about agriculture, the less likely you are to fall for scare tactics in the media and even ad campaigns.
“The city and the public needs food that is affordable and safe. They need people to provide crops,” he added.
By the year 2050, the world will have 9.6 billion people to feed, and Okeechobee will continue to be a big part of the agriculture industry, he predicted.
Retired Circuit Judge Bill Hendry was presented with a Farm City Week Dedicated service award at the event. The U.S. Air Force veteran attended the University of Florida, where he earned a law degree. He rose to the ranks of Florida Circuit Judge before he retired. He is also a noted local historian.
Taylor Pearce spoke on the statewide FFA. She was able to go on a tour for South American agriculture this year.
All of the youth groups in FFA and the 4-H were given an opportunity to talk about their club and activities.
Gold sponsors included Farm Credit of Florida, Okeechobee Area Agri-Council, and the Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Association.
Silver sponsors were Center State Bank, Diamond R. Fertilizer, Mack Farms Eagle Island, Everglades Farm Equipment, and the Okeechobee Livestock Market.
Bronze sponsors were Okeechobee County Cattlewomen’s Association, PNC Agricultural Banking, Seacoast National Bank, W&W Supply Co., Walpole Feed, and Williamson Cattle Company.
Rick Amsden, David Hazellief and Mike Gallagher served as the chefs.
An appeal was made for volunteers for Ag Venture to be held on Dec. 9-10 at the Ag Civic Center. All fourth graders in the county attend to learn more about agriculture.
Farm City Week is a national celebration for the role of agriculture. This was the 22nd Annual Farm City Week luncheon in Okeechobee.
Courtney Moyett, President of the Kiwanis Club was the hostess. The Reverend Bruce Simpson gave the invocation.