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ELLIS: University of Illinois supercomputer to become 'hired hand' helping farmers make big decisions

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Now this is really cool! It is so cool, some folks may even want to start farming just for the opportunity to take advantage of it! It is almost as cool as having the Farm Progress Show in your hometown.

The high-powered thinkers in the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics have pulled a coup that will not only benefit Central Illinois farmers, but farmers everywhere, helping them make one of the more challenging decisions they have to make.

By March 15, farmers will have to make a decision on which of two farm programs to select for their operation. And the decision will not be easy. It is not one of those questions of making a right or wrong answer, but how right or how wrong the answer may be.

Yes, thanks to Congress in its effort to serve all geographical and commodity interests when the 2018 Farm Bill was written, it gave farmers a choice and attached a myriad of economic forces to the two choices that preclude a clear choice.

And what is more complex, farmers can mix and match the choices on different farms and on different crops. In all reality, someone with a typical Central Illinois farming operation would find it nearly impossible to make a choice with any degree of satisfaction, using a farm computer with an Excel software program.

Knowing the challenges a farmer will have in making the best possible decision between the USDA’s farm program choices, the farm management team in the U of I agricultural economics department made a call to the University of Illinois National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). That is where the big computers operate and are calculating galactic movements eons from now, forecasting next year’s hurricane paths and beating chess masters who are not even born yet.

Now it is even taking on the challenges of arcane nuances in USDA farm programs. Yes, that is correct. The NCSA, world-renowned for solving computing challenges, will be a hired hand to help farmers make their selection for farm program decision-making. Late at night, working long hours after grain has been stored and equipment prepared for next spring, farmers will have the opportunity to ask the NCSA what is the best farm program choice for their farming operation, and what is the chance of that being the best choice.

That is cool. One can push the computer program’s button to calculate, and won’t even have time to lean back before the answers are presented on the screen in clear, concise detail. There will be graphs and charts, percentages and dollar amounts, and a clear answer for what a farmer should do, based on the information that he or she has given the NCSA computer. The computer may be helping 100,000 other farmers with their decision, but that’s OK, it is making trillions of calculations every second.

Farmers who are ready to start thinking about the March 15 decision deadline may want to meet their new hired hand at:

Stu Ellis is an observer of the Central Illinois agriculture scene. In addition to his weekly column, you can view his “From The Farm” and “Harvest Heritage” reports on WCIA 3 News.


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