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Farmers Learn to Manage Crops with High-Tech Precision

July/August 1998

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.

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