GIS Helps Brings Tech — and Cool — to Farming

Precision agriculture is a field management practice in which farmers use data taken from their farms and combine it with scientific crop management to improve yields and increase competitiveness.

GIS training helps improve efficiency and accuracy. Traditional agriculture and farming methods are taken to the next step with geospatial information systems.

There was an old song with the title, “How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)”. Written around the time of World War I, the sentiment was that young farmers who fought overseas and experienced the sophistication of a foreign capital would be dissatisfied with anything they could get back home.

Well, there’s something new giving young people with a farming background a reason to give a second look at their heritage: GIS technology. Geographic information systems offers new ways to run machines, improve farming practices, increase yields, and make more money — to say nothing of using the cutting edge of high tech to make one of the oldest occupations in the world cool again. Yes, agricultural youth are finding that they can expand their horizons if they learn GIS.

An example of GIS in the fields, so to speak, is a focus on so-called precision agriculture at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wis. Precision agriculture is a field management practice in which farmers use data taken from their farms and combine it with scientific crop management to improve yields and increase competitiveness. As the site Agri-View explains:

Beginning this fall, FVTC will offer a technical diploma in precision ag, the first of its kind in the state. Molded to fit industry needs, the goal of the precision ag program is to give students experience with technology in the form of a stand-alone degree or dual major with FVTC’s farm operations, ag business, ag power and agronomy programs. With the addition of new courses like precision equipment systems, GIS applications, advanced precision ag, precision ag field training and customer relations, [Associate Dean of Manufacturing and Agriculture Technologies Mike] Cattelino explains how the classes will provide a basic foundation for the many applications of precision ag.

It all comes down to variability in the field. Although a plot of land may look uniform, it almost never is. There will be variations in moisture, nitrogen and minerals levels, and in pH. Treating the farm as a uniform area means that some sections will do better and some do worse because there is no true average crop or parcel.

The way to improve how crops perform in the field is to adjust practices for the micro-conditions found in subsets of a field. One area might need more nitrogen from fertilizer. Another might have enough moisture and so does not need the same amount of irrigation that the neighboring section might require. A third could use a boost of magnesium or potassium.

When it comes to profiling specific geographic areas, geospatial technologies such as GIS and GPS are key aids. Whether providing a way to track soil characteristics or overlaying remote sensing maps to visualize specific performance, GIS and related tools are perfect matches for the needs of the farmers. Boost production and a farmer can become more productive without the punishing capital expenditure involved in purchasing more acreage. And that is one high tech cool result.

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