|They Teach “Old” Farmers “New Tricks”|
GPS Workshop Aids Farmers
The old adage about old dogs and new tricks has recently been turned on its ear, at least in Marion County.
Four "old" farmers are working hard to learn some "new tricks" in the form of GPS systems.
Now "old" is a relative term in that these guys are not new to farming. The farmers include Gary Weatherly, Chip Enlow, Danny McCreless and Robert McCarley.
Of course, the farmers did not jump headlong into the world of GPS on their own. Truth be told they were pushed by Wade Hill, who serves as the NRCS district conservationist for Winston and Marion Counties.
Maybe "pushed" is too harsh a term...how about nudged?
Hill knew of an Equip Program called Precision Ag that would pay for the row crop producers to purchase GPS systems for use in their fields. The only problem was it did not cover his district.
So Hill went to work to find a way to bring the program to his farmers.
"I saw a need and thought we could get some out here," Hill said. "Extension stepped in with some grant money, so they added a few counties to the program, including Marion and Winston Counties."
Hill’s district was added because it had shown interest and a need for the program.
He encouraged anyone interested in the program to contact their local NRCS office. Even if the program isn’t available yet in your area, Hill said expressing your interest may help expand the program.
Precision Ag for Beginners
There are different levels, so to speak, of the program. Hill said his farmers are participating in the lowest level, which covers pest management — insects or weeds.
Prior to this year, Hill said very few farmers in his area were using any form of guidance system other than a foam marker. Hill noted a foam marker system works great, but lacks the accuracy of a GPS.
"It just reduces the amount of pesticide put out because you don’t do near as much overlapping," Hill said. "It should prevent the skips that sometimes happen when you’re counting rows."
In order to qualify for the program, farmers have to use the GPS on 200 acres of row crop land for two years. After two years of the program, Hill said the farmers should recoup their initial investments of about $1,800.
Once approved for the program, farmers can use the GPS on any of their land, like pastures or hayfields.
Hill said, at this time, only row crop land could be used to qualify for the program, but he hopes pasture or hay land will be included in the future.
Hill personally uses a GPS on his hay land in Lawrence County. He said it has helped eliminate the skips during spraying, which in turn eliminates the overlaps as well.
"I thought I could drive a tractor pretty straight before I got my GPS," Hill said. "You think you’re headed straight for that tree at the end of the field, but you’re not."
At least one of the Marion County farmers has used his GPS to spread chicken litter, according to Hill.
Hill said the particular systems purchased by the Marion County farmers would allow them to increase their level of use as they become more familiar with the system.
"The Trimble System they bought will allow them to transfer information from the GPS to their computers," Hill explained. "They can print maps of their fields or other information when they need to."
This information could be interfaced with certain computer programs. This would be a basic level of precision agriculture.
The farmers are operating off a WAAS signal which is accurate to within one to two feet.
Hill noted the Trimble Systems could easily be removed from one tractor and placed in another, or in a spreader truck or other vehicle.
Field Day for Farmers
Of course, there was quite a learning curve for the farmers to overcome. Most of them do not consider themselves knowledgeable concerning high-tech devices.
After working with the GPS devices for several weeks, the farmers told Hill they were having difficulty getting it to function properly. It probably didn’t help that the only operator’s manual that came with the systems was on a CD.
Hill arranged for a demonstration at the farm of Gary Weatherly in Marion County. He enlisted the help of Amy Thompson Winstead, a regional Extension agent who specializes in precision agriculture.
Winstead was particularly helpful to the farmers because she is very familiar with the model of GPS they are using. Winstead and her husband use the same model on their sod farm.
On Wednesday, March 31, Winstead met with several farmers from the area to show them how to set up their GPS systems and make the changes needed according to each farmer’s need.
She upgraded the firmware on the systems, a process allowing manufacturers to offer new programming to systems that have already been produced.
Even though the farmers had purchased their GPS systems about six months ago, two upgrades were already available for their units.
Hill said the only way to become proficient in the use of GPS is to use the system often. Winstead’s demonstration gave the local farmers the confidence they needed to experiment with the systems and become more familiar with them.
Persons interested in participating in the Equip Precision Ag Program may call Hill at (205) 921-3103 or contact their local NRCS office.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.