Kids like video games partly to get a chance to do grown-up stuff like build cities, fly jets and drive race cars. Well, now farmers have a new video "game" of their own to play--only they can use it for serious business: running a farm.
It's called FarmWin 97, and it lets farmers to do all kinds of farm chores in a computer, rather than in the "real world." No, they don't use it to get out of doing their chores, but as a way to see how doing various jobs differently might save--or cost--more time and money. Craig Murphy helped scientists with the Agricultural Research Service develop FarmWin 97. He uses the game to move around trucks, tractors and a whole bunch of cows, sheep, goats, wild horses and pigs.
Some farmers are so serious about this game they have computers in their tractors and special receivers to pick up location signals from military satellites in the sky to help them play. Many boats, trucks and cars have these receivers for plotting their positions on a computer map. Hikers and military personnel use them to keep from getting lost. In precision farming, they're on tractors, along with other equipment like radar guns.
Farmer Murphy's FarmWin 97 "game" is really more like a flight simulator, allowing farmers to practice before making real farming decisions that cost a lot of money.
Even deciding where animals graze has an effect on farmer Murphy's checkbook. He can't let animals eat grass in the same pasture every year, because even grass needs a break.
FarmWin 97 lets him "play" at driving tractors and opening the barn door to let the animals in or out. By driving the tractor on the screen first, Murphy can find out how much gas he would use up driving around a field before actually using real gas. When Murphy does have to buy real gas, FarmWin 97 records the purchase and puts gas in a tank on the computer screen. And--you won't find this in your typical computer game--FarmWin is actually connected to his real-life checkbook! It helps him keep track of what he spends.
You may never before have thought of farming as a high-tech kind of business--but it is! For example, Murphy uses the computer program to remind him what's happening in each of his many fields. For example, he doesn't usually want to grow the same plants in a field two years in a row. This is because pests and disease become worse in a field if they have a chance to attack the same plants every year. If they could talk, the pests might say: "Hey, this is THE place to be; it's got everything we want, year after year. Let's get all the relatives over and party!"
Market prices, soil conditions and even the weather all affect Murphy's decision making--and the computer "game" helps him take these things into account, too.
Murphy not only plays the game, he helped invent it and is one of the farmers who owns the company that makes it, Sunrise Software in Morris, Minnesota. These farmers developed FarmWin 97 as a team effort with U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists and computer software specialists.
The scientists put in the latest information from their research on soils, crops and other areas of farming.
Murphy's team keeps trying to make FarmWin 97 better. One way they've done this is by fixing it so farmers can link the game to other programs they buy, like one that draws maps of farm fields using information from the tractor's computer and satellite receiver.
They tested the program on their own farms and made sure it worked before making it available to other farmers.