Published on 06/10/96

Precision Farming on Display in Ag Showcase '96

When Craig Kvien tells about the gee-whiz technology to be displayed during the Georgia Ag Showcase '96, there's a lot of little kid in his voice.

Georgia Ag Showcase '96 will be June 29 at the Rural Development Center in Tifton. It's geared to farmers and anyone interested in Georgia farming.

The event is co-sponsored by the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Fort Valley State College and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

One of the show's best prospects -- for farmers, science teachers or anyone else -- is the chance to talk with people like Kvien, a University of Georgia crop physiologist who chairs the National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory.

"You should see that combine," he says, referring to a yield-monitoring peanut harvester UGA engineers developed in concert with a host of participating firms. "It looks like a race car, with decals identifying all the cooperating companies."

Such harvesters are mostly grain combines now, Kvien says. The peanut combine, in another year or so, will add to these space-age machines.

Every second or so the combines measure and record the volume, weight and moisture of a crop sample, along with where in the field it came from.

When the whole field is harvested, the farmer can feed all of the data into a computer. The result is a color-coded map of his field's harvest.

"At the show we'll have maps from Georgia fields showing a whole range of crops," Kvien says. "These maps describe the yield variance within a field."

The combines, and the resulting maps, will make it easy to test crop varieties. "All you'll have to know is where you planted them in the field," he says.

Their best use, though, may be diagnosing problems. "With them you can look for the causes of low-yield areas," Kvien says. "It might be soil compaction here, chinch bugs there, or nematodes, or weeds.

"Or it might be 'I-haven't-got-a-clue,'" he laughs, admitting no one has all the answers.

Besides the state-of-the-art combines, the June farm show will display a number of sprayers designed to target specific weeds.

"One sprayer turns on and off when it sees chlorophyl," Kvien says. "It can sense a plant smaller than a dime and turn a nozzle on. But it won't turn it on for a green dollar bill -- I've tried lots of ways to fool that thing! "

Another sprayer targets weeds taller than the crop -- a valuable feature for peanut growers.

"Imagine running about rabbit-high across a peanut field and turning on a sprayer nozzle every time you see a weed above the peanuts," Kvien says. "It turns a nozzle on for an eighth of a second.

"We tested that sprayer in a field with beggarweed and Texas panicum," he says. "And we got an 80-percent reduction in herbicide use with the same weed kill. Now, that's something. This is a great concept.

"The big question now is, 'How many acres do you have to run it over to pay for the equipment?'" he says.

Among the other high-tech gadgets on display will be a four- wheeler equipped to measure and find problem areas in a field.

And Kvien finds an automatic soil sampler fascinating. Mounted in the back of a pickup, the unit extends an arm over the side and takes soil samples from an arc around the pickup. It then packs the samples away for analysis -- if you don't get the truck stuck.

"If you do get stuck, the soil sampler can help you get out," he laughs. "Guess how we found that out? And you can get stuck where it can't help you get out, too."

It's comforting to think that all that technology hasn't taken mud, or humor, out of farming.

Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.