Precision Agriculture

CDM-MR-3-Precision-ag805by Steve Wagner
A cluster of people — the curious, the meticulous, those who were ‘just wondering’ and, of course, farmers — gathered on the edge of the field at Penn State’s Research Station in Landisville, Lancaster County PA. A PSU Extension Educator, agronomist Jeff Graybill, is preparing a test flight of a drone, one that is fashioned to look like a child’s model plane of advanced design. The mainstream news media is used to talking about much larger drone aircraft that are instrumental in political assassination or the tracking of specific persons or movements of people. But the function of this particular drone, purchased by Graybill with grant money, is to give farmers another tool with which to improve crop maintenance. From the air, photographs can zero in on specific tracts of land, even footage or inches if necessary. Graybill monitors on an iPad the images recorded by the drone, also known as a Quadricopter. This little fellow can operate from a height of 400 feet. If it exceeds that height, the FAA can step in and begin to regulate its use. It also has a radial range of about 1000 feet. Very recently, a Lancaster County township passed a single sentence ordinance that a person may not fly even a hobby airplane or helicopter in their township over a neighbor’s property unless that neighbor grants permission. Flight itself has not been banned. There is a school of thought which maintains that the ordinance is clearly aimed at drones because model planes have been around forever. The drone demonstration, part of the Farming for Success 2013 seminar, was hosted by the Extension but it is not the only tool in the box.
“GPS can be very intimidating,” says Binkley & Hurst GPS Guidance Specialist David Shaw. “We do try to work with a lot of growers. This can become a very important management tool. It is nice to have the light bars, it is nice to have steering, and it is nice to have clutches. The goal is to make you money. To make money you have to have information. To have information you need some way to collect it.
“Satellites beaming down information into your tractor cab,” Shaw explained, describing how you get GPS information. “There’s a constellation of satellites up in the stars,” known as the GPS Constellation. “There’s also a Russian constellation known as Glonass. We can use some of their satellites to fill in where GPS might drop off a little bit with coverage on the North American side of things. Satellites are always moving, always going around the earth in their orbits. In this area, we use what’s called the WASS 138, a satellite that sits over the equator and keeps track of what’s happening on the east coast. My goal is to have you guys have the GPS running and working for you and earning money for you as many months of the year as possible.
“A lot of people are running into regulations as far as run-off situations on their farms; they’re trying to manage nutrients, track nutrients, what they put where, and why. It can be really annoying to have some guy in a suit and a government car running around your farm, asking ‘what did you do here? And there? Do you have any records, any paperwork to back this up? Is there anything on a computer I can look at?’ Are you prepared? Do you have any system in place to give them answers that they need?”
“When we talk about GPS,” says Ken Diller, Sales & Finance Manager of Hoober Equipment, Intercourse PA, “we talk about latitude, longitude and altitude. But there also has to be a correction source. Basically, there are three correction sources you can look at. WASS is a source supplied to you by the federal government. It is free to you. GPS is good for certain things, but as you start moving up the scale and expecting it to do more and more, that is when you have to begin looking at different levels of corrections.
“You are all centered in the Chesapeake Bay basin. One of the continuing issues we hear about the bay is nutrient management; how we control manure and how do we know how much we’re putting on at a certain spot? With the technology we have now, we can not only map where we’re putting down fertilizer but we can also say ‘I know how much I’ve put down on a given number of acres’.”
Real time fertilizer placement is a relatively new concept that has not yet been widely adopted. Taking corn as an example, says Diller, most people are still side-dressing corn.
“When you stand back and look at that field with the naked eye,” says Diller, “you would have said there is absolutely no difference in that field; it is all exactly the same. But when you run a sensor over the top of it, now you can begin to see the differences in the crop throughout that field. Light reflected back to that meter gives it a gauge of three different things. It measures the chlorophyll level. It also measures crop mass.”

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