Satellite Technology Offers Ray of Hope for Saving Money In Farming

Rene Schmit, Parish, Richard L., Morgan, Johnny W.  |  7/31/2006 8:11:53 PM

A company representative of precision agriculture shows off his “no hands” operation of this Case IH tractor. Rene Schmit, the LSU AgCenter county agent for St. Charles and St. John parishes, said farmers were impressed with how this tractor steers itself through the field by AutoSteer satellite technology. (Photo by Johnny Morgan)

The tractor driver intentionally made some curves in the rows and demonstrated to the sugarcane farmers how the tractor’s satellite guidance system would correct for the human error. (Photo by Johnny Morgan)

News Release Distributed 07/31/06

Down on the farm may be the last place many people expect to see cutting-edge satellite technology.

But, gradually, more Louisiana farmers are starting to use this technology, and it’s offering a ray of hope as they struggle with high cost and low profits.

Satellite technology, when looked at as a whole, is known as precision agriculture. Among the tools are remote sensing, global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS).

In precision agriculture, information is sent to and from a satellite to a piece of farm equipment, hence, remote sensing.

GPS is simply giving the satellite a reference point to return to, which allows the farm equipment to make precise movements within the field. This is a great help to the farmer when making rows and planting seed. The equipment is allowed to return to the exact position on demand from the operator.

GIS is more concerned with mapping. With (GIS), farmers are able to connect information to location data, such as where nutrients and chemicals are needed and what area of the field produced the highest yields.

“Precision agriculture means the farmer can use fewer inputs in his operation – less fertilizer and less pesticide, for example. This saves money,” said LSU AgCenter county agent Rene Schmit. “The system allows for the precise use of just what’s needed to get the job done.”

Schmit, who is based at the LSU AgCenter office in St. Charles Parish, said many farmers are doing their homework at this point before they decide whether to invest in precision agricultural tools. To help them assess the tools, Schmit had part of the precision agriculture system on display at one of his recent sugarcane field days.

“The piece of equipment demonstrated is called the AutoSteer system,” Schmit said. “With this piece of equipment, the farmer makes use of satellite technology to help guide his farm equipment through the field.”

Dr. Dick Parish, an engineer at the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station said the implementation of the components of precision agriculture has been growing slowly but steadily over the past few years.

“The basic concept of precision agriculture involves a couple of things. One is treating small areas of the field individually with pesticides, fertilizer and so on, instead of treating the whole field with applications that may not be needed in all areas. Second, it allows for automatic guidance to get closer to the crop rows with minimum overlap,” Parish said.

Parish said that with the precision farming guidance system, the farmer is allowed to cultivate close to the crop because the system allows him to return to the exact same path each time he travels down the rows with minimal effort on the part of the driver.

When using the AutoSteer system, the driver only needs to turn the equipment around at the end of the row. The steering up and down each row is controlled by the satellite system.

“This allows the farmer to have perfect rows throughout his field every time,” Parish said.

This satellite equipment can be used on each piece of farm equipment from planting through harvest.

Schmit said the demonstration of the AutoSteer GPS system was a real eye-opener for many of his farmers. “This system has been around for several years, but it has now become user-friendly to the point that it’s almost elementary to operate,” he said.

Though the AutoSteer system is relatively new in agriculture, it has been used in the aviation, transportation and mining industries for several years. The system uses satellites to steer the farm equipment, which aids in helping reduce operating costs, Schmit said.

He said what the farmers were shown is how this piece of equipment would perform accurately within an inch pass after pass through a field.

Schmit said about 6 percent of the cane farmers in the area are already using some form of precision agriculture through GPS or GIS.

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Contacts:
Rene Schmit at (985) 785-4473 or rschmit@agcenter.lsu.edu
Dick Parish at (985) 543-4125 or dparish@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writer: Johnny Morgan at (225) 281-0814 or jmorgan@agcenter.lsu.edu

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