By using their PDAs, farmers could go out to their fields,
download the respective aerial images, and use Global Positioning System
(GPS) coordinates to quickly locate problem areas. This would allow
them to take care of whatever ails their crops just minutes after the
aerial images were taken. The wireless local area network can also be
used to download application maps directly to tractors or other machinery,
eliminating time-consuming steps and reducing the chance of human error.
For the past 3 years, Jenkins, a geneticist and research
leader for the ARS Genetics and Precision Agriculture Research Unitalong
with ARS technicians Kimber Gourley and Wendell Ladnerhas worked
with the Paul Good Farm in Noxubee County, Mississippi, near Macon.
In a cooperative agreement, they have been evaluating the utility of
this emerging farming tool.
Jenkins' team has tested various Internet connections
to see which would make this system work best. Dial-up Internet modem
connections are slow, making it impractical to download multi-megabyte
aerial photography files. Digital subscriber lines, or DSL, are much
faster than dial-up modems. But since farmers must live within 18,000
feet of a local central switching system to use DSL, this service is
also unusable by most of them.
According to Jenkins, farmers' best option for high-speed
downloads of aerial cropland photos would be satellite Internet access
through any of several service providers.
"It used to take 2, maybe 3 days before these images
were useful to us," says Jenkins of the hand-delivery method. "Now
we can have and use these images the same dayusually within minutes
of the plane landing."
The technology is not cheapthe receiver box costs
about $500, and subscription service is $89.95 per month for small businesses.
But the benefits may be worth the costs.
"With these images, we can classify growth patterns,
habitats, and insects that cause crop damage," says Jenkins. "It
will help decide where to spray and not to spray. There will be tremendous
savings on the cost of fertilizers and insecticideswhich can harm
the environmentand that will help the farmers' bottom line."
James McKinion, an electronics engineer; Sam Turner, a
retired computer specialist; Jeff Willers, an entomologist; and John
Read, an agronomist, have all taken part in this ongoing study.By
Flores, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Integrated Agricultural Systems,
an ARS National Program (#207) described on the World Wide Web at www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
N. Jenkins is in the USDA-ARS Genetics
and Precision Agriculture Research Unit, Crop Science Research Laboratory,
P.O. Box 5367, Mississippi State, MS 39762; phone (662) 320-7386, fax
"Speeding Up Data Delivery for Precision Agriculture"
was published in the June
2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.