February 14, 2008

As farmers begin to think about spring and ways to improve their planting methods, a new precision agriculture tool can help them get the most from inputs and save money on wasted seed and chemicals, said Tim Stombaugh, associate extension professor in biosystems and agricultural engineering at the University of Kentucky.

Automated section control is a global positioning system driven machine that can be added to large farm machinery. It works with the farm implement’s GPS and onboard computer to record field applications in the form of a real-time map, he said. If the tractor or sprayer goes over an area that has already received an application, the device detects the overlap and shuts off individual sections or nozzles of the implement to prevent the unnecessary usage of additional seeds or chemicals.

“If you have odd shaped fields, a lot of waterways, or obstructions in your fields, it’s going to be a tremendous benefit,” he said.

This device became available commercially last season and was developed to help large farm machinery maneuver on odd shaped fields and pointed rows, obstacles many Kentucky farmers face during planting season.

Since an automated section control device could require a significant capital investment, farmers should weigh the cost of the machine against their potential savings on inputs before purchasing the equipment.

“Seed savings is really what farmers need to look at, especially with some of the genetic seeds, because the costs are skyrocketing,” Stombaugh said. “One of the farmers we partner with is probably looking at about a 15 percent savings in inputs just because of going to this.”

As this is new technology, it may cause headaches for some farmers as they learn how to install and operate it. Stombaugh said these problems should improve, and the machine should become more user-friendly after it is on the market for a while.

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