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Precision Farming Helps Keep Farm in Family

PULLMAN, Wash. — When Gary Wagner’s father died about 15 years ago, he took tons of farming knowledge with him and left behind a 4,500-acre Minnesota farm for Gary and his brothers to maintain.

It took them more than a decade to learn how to farm well.

“We wasted 15 years collecting data, and we simply couldn’t afford that,” Wagner said. “We needed results right away that were economically viable.”

In an effort to improve farm productivity, Wagner and his brothers turned to precision agriculture five years ago. Now their farm flourishes with sugar beets, wheat, barley, soybeans, sunflowers and dry beans.

If it wasn’t for precision agriculture, the family wouldn’t have been able to determine which areas of farm operations needed improvement, Wagner said.

Since precision agriculture invaded the farming industry five years ago, growers like Wagner who utilize the techniques reap the rewards.

“I’m almost done mapping my entire farm through the use of our Geographic Information System package,” Wagner said. “We use yield monitors, laser equipment, aerial photography and satellite imaging for topography information, soil sampling and vegetation purposes.”

The wet conditions on Wagner’s farm force him to use yield mapping to improve his drainage system. With yield mapping he can determine the areas on his farm that have drainage problems and he can guide excess water away.

Sharing understanding of this technology and getting it out to the next generation is crucial, Wagner said. Growers “…shouldn’t expect results right away, but for the future of their farms they should go out, educate themselves and use the technology bit by bit.”

Wagner is one of about 25 speakers scheduled for the Western Precision Agriculture Conference in Boise, Idaho, February 10-11, 1998. The conference will be at the Boise Centre-on-the-Grove.

“The conference provides information on what precision agriculture is, where to get started, and how to use the data and incorporate it into your system,” said Tim Fiez, co-chair of the conference and a soil fertilization specialist at Washington State University. “You can see the technology all under one roof and learn from the experts.”

Sponsored by Washington State University, in cooperation with the University of Idaho and the Idaho Precision Agriculture Association, the conference will feature such nationally known speakers as Paul Fixen of the Potash and Phosphate Institute and writer for “Ag Innovator” magazine.

Speakers and panelists will share precision agriculture experiences from the Midwest and Northwest and discuss with participants how to make precision pay for both grower and dealer.

Some farmers are reluctant to learn about precision agriculture because they are leery of the cost and complexity, said Jim Durfy, co-chair of the conference and faculty member of WSU’s bio-system engineering department. “But if you can’t progress with the new management techniques in agriculture, you’ll be history.”

Growers “…can’t sit back and ignore this technology because, if they do, others will get the advantage,” Fiez said.

The last day highlights four case studies of producers who partnered with other growers, industries and universities and made precision agriculture work for them. Registration for the conference is $169 by Jan. 28 or $199 thereafter. Rooms may be reserved at the new host hotel in Boise, “The Grove, a West Coast Hotel.” The hotel has a block of rooms reserved until Jan. 10 at a special rate of $80 + tax for a single or double.

For a brochure call WSU Conferences and Institutes at 1-800-942-4978 or e-mail: wsuconf@wsu.edu. Additional information is also available from University of Idaho extension potato specialist John Ojala at the Idaho Falls Research and Extension Center at 208/529-8376.

EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: This news release was written by Monica Floreno, a WSU public relations student.

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