Farmers Learn to Manage Crops with High-Tech Precision
At several community colleges in the Midwest, future
farmers are being taught with a high-tech twist. By learning to master sophisticated
gadgetry and apply it to the business of farm management, these students
and their instructors plan to transform traditional farming. They expect
this transformation to have an impact equal to tractors replacing horses
in the early 1900s, and the introduction of hybrid corn and fertilizers
in the 1950s.
The innovation at work is called precision agriculture technology, and
it involves the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information
System (GIS) technology to maximize crop management efficiency. The GPS
receiver calculates location using GPS satellites, while the farmer collects
and records data on the field. The GIS software manages, analyzes and manipulates
this data. Farmers can also get additional data from imaging satellites.
Applying this system to farm management allows farmers to better assess
situations before making decisions that affect their crops. It also allows
farmers to tailor their methods to specific field segments, rather than
using the same techniques for their entire acreage.
The current curriculum at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa,
which teaches GPS and GIS technology, was originated by instructor Terry
Brase, with funding support from NSF. Brase intends eventually to have the
curriculum available nationwide to agriculture students and instructors.
He estimates that within 15 years the use of precision farming technology
will be commonplace among U.S. farmers.