The buddy seat on Rick Kimberley’s combine-harvester is a fine vantage point from which to observe precision farming. The combine’s satellite navigation allows farmers to make the most of good weather and to reap in the dark during peak harvesting periods, according to an article on Economist.com. It is precise enough to trace the most efficient path to scoop up yellow, crinkly corn stalks to within a couple of centimeters. This enables Kimberley, a 67-year old who farms near Maxwell, IA, to harvest about 100 acres in a 14-hour day, helped only by a big trailer into which he discharges his corn.
Almost by accident, the silver-haired Kimberley has become a sought-after ambassador for modern farming methods in China. He travels there regularly to talk about precision farming and other tricks of his trade. Kimberley has been to 40 Chinese cities in ten provinces during more than a dozen visits in the past five years. In September he was in China to break ground on a “Friendship Farm” in Hebei province, which is modeled on the Kimberley farm. This will be part of a 3,300-acre endeavor featuring fruit groves, livestock and even a Disney-style version of a small town in Iowa. It will be connected to nearby Beijing by a road and high-speed rail link now under construction.
The transplanting of the Kimberley farm to Hebei is a sign of friendship, says Wendong Zhang of Iowa State university. It will be a museum rather than a model for China’s 260m farmers, who farm two acres on average. The Kimberley way of farming 4,000 acres with some sophisticated machinery and only a couple of hired farm hands is cost-efficient, but would risk creating mass unemployment in rural China. It could possibly be transplanted into the north-east of the country, close to North Korea and Russia, says Mr Zhang. The area is sparsely populated and already operates some large-scale farms.