October 7, 2004 | By: Laura Skillman

In western Kentucky, where grain is the predominant agricultural enterprise, county agricultural leaders were looking for ways to spend their share of the Master Tobacco Settlement money on something to enhance this farming sector.

To that end, Ballard County was the first to formulate a plan and develop a program for a 50 percent cost share up to $4,000 per farm to gain entry into precision agriculture. Since its successful program was implemented in 2003, three other counties have adopted similar plans.

The counties that have implemented precision agriculture programs and the amount of county funds utilized are Ballard, $74,000; McCracken, $60,000; Graves, $40,000; and Carlisle, $50,000, according to the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy.

“Very few farmers in west Kentucky have begun using any GPS (Global Positioning System) equipment, whether a light bar guidance system or a yield monitor system,” said Tom Miller, Ballard County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. “The objectives of the program were to introduce and familiarize producers with the basics of GPS operation, the practical application of GPS on their farms, installing and upgrading equipment, calibrating and storing yield monitor information, planting and harvesting patterns for data analysis and management changes.”

The Ballard program started with a general meeting for producers detailing GPS technology with a focus on using light bar guidance and yield monitor systems. Information also was provided on what to look for and questions to ask when buying this equipment. A second meeting on a producer’s farm demonstrated proper installation. Other meetings included one prior to harvest to demonstrate proper yield monitor calibration and data handling.

Through the cost share program, 23 light bar guidance systems were purchased and used on 75,000 acres for uses ranging from fertilizer to herbicide applications. Nine producers purchased yield monitors and mapping equipment through the program. This equipment was used to harvest and map more than 27,000 acres of wheat, corn and soybeans.

“Everyone saw a benefit to the guidance system immediately,” Miller said. “They could tell it was easy to use and accurate. It caused less driver fatigue than the foam-marker system. Several farmers commented that it should be standard equipment on sprayers.”

The mapping and yield monitors will take longer to see results, he said. Farmers first need to get two to three years of data before making many management decisions as a result of the information, he said.

In McCracken County, the program was implemented because of farmer interest, especially from those living along the Ballard County line, said Doug Wilson, McCracken County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. The program is under way, with about a third of the money allocated so far.

The Ballard program was honored this summer during the meeting of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents. The program was one of four national finalists in the Remote Sensing and Precision Agriculture Program sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“I think we accomplished what we set out to accomplish,” Miller said. “We were able to utilize Phase I money for advances in grain production, introduced GPS to farmers and made it more cost effective. We are at the stage now of determining where we go from here.”


Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278
Sources: Tom Miller, 270-665-9918;
Doug Wilson, 270-554-9520