By Jennifer L. Cannon
Georgia farmers may soon have precise maps that show how much money they make - or lose - in any spot on the farm.
"A profit map shows a farmer the bottom line," said Calvin Perry, a research engineer with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES). "And when he can see what he put into his pockets - how much profit he made on that land - he can begin making his operation more efficient."
Perry studies precision farming at the CAES Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, Ga. George Vellidis, Jeffrey Durrence and Dan Thomas, all engineers, are part of the large team working to develop, perfect and test precision farming equipment, software and methods.
Profit maps and yield maps - key components of precision farming - enable farmers to see the results of their management practices.
"So many factors affect the crop yield it's hard to say, 'This one will make the change,'" Vellidis said. "But you shouldn't even try to make that decision without accurate information."
Precision farming also helps farmers be better stewards of the
"If you put out only the pesticides and nutrients you need - and only where they're needed - you reduce the risk of overapplying chemicals and environmental pollution, and you save money," Thomas said.
Farmers use Global Positioning System satellites to map soil types, disease and insect problems, and nutrient and water applications. Special sensors, attached to harvesters fitted with GPS locators, gather yield and production information for any part of a field.
Computer software then analyzes the data and produces maps that show vividly where management changes could boost profits, Vellidis said. "That's really important for us now, as we're looking ahead and wondering if federal price support programs will be there much longer," he said.
Still, not many farmers are using precision farming yet.
"It's not cheap," said Durrence, who figures on a start-up cost of $8,000 to $12,000 in equipment. "It's hard to get into it a little bit at a time. And not many commercial services are available yet.
First developed for growing corn and other grains in the Midwest, the technology was not easily adapted to Georgia's cotton and peanuts.
"We ended up almost starting over to get a yield monitor that works for our crops," Vellidis said.
Although their cotton yield monitoring is in the developmental stage, five farmers - four in Georgia and one in Texas - are using the peanut yield monitoring system this year.
"It's exciting for us to see Georgia farmers on the cutting edge of this technology in the Southeast," Perry said. "This is a high-tech approach to farming, a real information revolution on the farm."
For more information, e-mail George Vellidis at email@example.com, Calvin Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Dan Thomas at email@example.com or access http://nespal.cpes.peachnet.edu/.