A while back, a college was conducting a consumer science study on shoppers’ purchasing skills. One part of their study focused on shoppers’ ability to discern prices, so they set up a simple study in a grocery store. At the same store they sold soup in two different ways and measured sales. They priced it at 25 cents a can and at three cans for $1. Guess which resulted in the sale of more cans. Even though the cost was 8 cents more per can, the three cans for $1 far outsold the 25 cents per can. Naturally, part of this was perception but another part of this is the lack of basic math skills and the ability to solve what is essentially a simple story problem. If you were asked to list the top ten skills necessary in agriculture, would math and problem solving be on the list? It should be.
Computers, calculators, Ipads, smartphones and all their applications have made life much easier in a variety of ways. All you need do is plug in the numbers and wait for the results. Many of us, not just the under thirty, are out of practice or never developed basic math and problem solving skills. Community and technical colleges in addition to four-year institutions spend considerable time, money, and energy helping students obtain basic proficiencies in mathematics that will allow them to pass their college level math classes.
There are three major reasons to attain and maintain these skills. The obvious one first; batteries die, computers crash or you might not be near a device. A more important reason; what if there isn’t an application or program available for your needs. The most important reason; if you can’t set up the problem and don’t understand what you are trying to solve, how do you know what information you need or if the answer makes sense. Something else to throw in here is the ability to know if your solution makes sense.
Here are a few brief examples of mathematics and agriculture. As you read them, take a second and see if you can figure them out or set them up.
• You are applying 100 lb. nitrogen/acre as urea. Urea is 46 percent nitrogen. How much urea fertilizer must you apply per acre: 46 lb. or 217 lb.?
• You have two sources of the same fertilizer. Shipping costs are equal. Here are the two prices; $1000/ton and 60 cents/pound. Which is a better deal?
• Your sprayer has 60 nozzles spaced 20 inches apart with a per nozzle output of 8 ounces over 30 seconds and you want to apply 10 gallons per acre. Could you set up and answer the following questions. What is you nozzle output in gallons per minute per nozzle and total output of all the nozzles? What speed do you need to drive to apply 10 gallons per acre?
• You are administering an injection to a steer. The label says to administer 5cc per 1000 lbs. of weight. You approximate the weight as 700 lbs. What is your dosage?
• The cost of a wheat fungicide treatment is $15/acre and you are told to expect a 3 bushel/acre yield benefit. What is the minimum price of a bushel of wheat that allows you to break even?
How do you think you did? Only the sprayer question should require a pencil and paper, let alone a calculator. Next week’s column will provide the answers.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.