Gone are the old ways of farming in today’s world of increased demand, efficiency and concerns about environmental protection. In response to these demands, local farmers like Matt Dicks of Lake City, Florida have begun to incorporate precision agriculture methods into their current practices to create better produce.
Dicks grew up in a family of farmers with a lineage going back six generations. Since he was a child, Dicks has been learning how to farm.
“It’s hard work for sure but it’s rewarding and something somebody has to do,” Dicks said.
As a new season of farming begins in North Central Florida, Dicks has begun planting new crops. According to Dicks, his newly-planted corn will be fully grown and ready for harvest in late July or early August – roughly 120 days from planting.
This year, Dicks has been using a new approach to plant his crops – precision farming. The main idea behind precision farming is that every field has different land features, topography, soil characteristics and crop outputs, which requires precise site-specific management and use of technology.
“We are trying to improve the way we manage the field,” Reza Ehsani, University of Florida Associate Professor, Department of Agriculture and Biological Engineering, said. “The concept has been around since the 1980s and was initially designed for row crops like corn and soy beans.”
According to Ehsani, if you can monitor and measure all of the factors and understand the relationship of the input and the output of farming, you can maximize the return of product and economics while reducing environmental damage.
Timmy Bussey, a farmer in Columbia County, started using precision farming in his agricultural practices a couple years prior to Dicks. Bussey says that the newer technology has helped make farming faster and easier.
Farmers like Dicks and Bussey now use Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information System (GIS) for precise mapping and interpretation of soil features to increase efficiency and reduce waste.
“Time-saving is the biggest thing,” Bussey said. “GPS saves you a lot of time, minimizes overlapping and chemical usage.”
Dicks can now rely on GPS hands-free driving to increase precision, reduce the amount of driving and mistakes tractor operators may make.
“The hardest part is not falling asleep,” he said.
Before these technologies became utilized, farmers would need to run multiple tractors to do the jobs that one tractor can do today. More fuel, fertilizer and herbicide was used and wasted due to the less accurate and less efficient practices of the past.
The upfront cost of implementing new technologies into daily farming practices is high according to Dicks.
The fuel savings is greatly improved due to the reduction of tractor passes in fields. Two or three passes had to be made in the past and now only one is required.
“Over a span of a few years it will pay for itself,” Dicks said. “The GPS is cost-effective because it allows you to be more accurate with seed fertilizer and chemicals which in turn means cost savings. GPS is a lot more commonplace now than several years ago even on smaller farms.”
Precision farming has further evolved since the introduction of technology such as GPS and has now become more interesting and more useful, says Ehsani.
Farmers can now maintain fields of crops with less fuel, less agricultural waste, less time and less manual labor. This saves money and reduces their environmental footprint.
But it doesn’t stop there.
“The latest topic that is coming up is autonomous tractors,” Ehsani said. “Tractors that can operate the field without an operator and work day and night – they wouldn’t get tired.”