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Farm Goes From Horses to Satellites

PULLMAN, Wash. — Farming was simple in 1914 when Gaylord Madison broke land out of sagebrush 11 miles south of Hermiston, Ore. Horses. Moldboard plows. Lots of sweat and aching muscles.

It’s a very different operation today.

In 1994, Gaylord’s grandson, Kent Madison, introduced precision farming to his 15,000-acre operation where he grows winter and spring wheat, grain corn, buckwheat and canola under irrigation. Equipment on combines receive signals from satellites and Coast Guard beacons that pinpoint his location in fields. A monitor collects yield data, which is tagged with location data and stored on a memory card about the size of a thick credit card.

Back in his farm office, Madison slips the memory card into his personal computer and downloads the data for future analysis. An aerial photography service takes infra red photographs of growing crops four times each growing season.

Madison says correlating infra red data with other data systems has given him a more accurate picture of what’s happening in his fields.

He says his initial interest in precision farming was to cut input costs, and hopefully to increase yields. It’s paying off.

Madison will be one of 25 speakers at the Western Precision Agriculture Conference Feb. 10-11 in Boise. Precision agriculture, the kind of thing Madison is involved in, is a data-intensive way of managing farms by treating relatively small areas of large fields as if they were separate units. Each unit is managed for maximum profit. In Boise, Madison will tell farmers how he imports infra red aerial photographic images into his computerized mapping software and correlates them with yield data collected from his center-pivot-irrigated fields with global positioning system technology.

“It is becoming apparent to us that some of our yield decisions were not soil or variety dependent, but were due to lack of water uniformity or yield mapping operator errors,” Madison says.

Other speakers include Richard Johnson, Northwest Precision Agriculture, Blackfoot, Idaho. He will explain how farmers can put together the complex puzzle of precision components, such as yield monitoring, precision application, Global Information System software, grid sampling, and remote sensing. He will answer questions farmers commonly ask about precision farming.

Paul Fixen, senior vice president, Potash & Phosphate Institute, Brookings, S.D., will tell farmers about sensing and mapping crop protein and using the data to refine site-specific nitrogen management programs.

John S. Warinner, professional engineer, Fountainhead Irrigation, Inc., Walla Walla, will explain how conventional irrigation system design and management approaches fail to provide the detailed information required to profitably apply new, efficient irrigation methods.

Corey Colliver, Springhill Engineering, Belgrade, Mont., will explain how Global Positioning System and Geographical Information System software can correlate site- specific weed management data with other aspects of management.

A four-person team of Washington State University and private industry scientists will report on use of precision farming technology in potato production under center pivot irrigation.

The Boise conference is sponsored by WSU, in cooperation with the University of Idaho and the Idaho Precision Agriculture Association. It will feature nationally known speakers with in-depth talks, case studies and technical information.

Thirty to 40 vendor displays are expected.

Tim Fiez, WSU soil fertility specialist, said the conference is for producers of all crops, regardless of whether they are using precision agriculture or are just curious about it.

Registration costs $199. For a complete brochure call WSU Conferences and Institutes, 800-942-4978 or 509-335-3530, or e-mail wsuconf@wsu.edu. Lodging is available at a special rate of $80 plus tax for single or double occupancy at the host hotel, “The Grove, a West Coast Hotel,” in Boise, 800-426-0670.

Additional information is available from University of Idaho extension potato specialist John Ojala at the Idaho Falls Research and Extension Center, 208-529-8376.

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