Space-Age Farming

07/01/2009 02:00:00 AM

By Vicky Boyd, Editor

Will Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Farms near Lake Wales, says he’s still an infant when it comes to learning the benefits of a global positioning system, since he just acquired the technology last fall.

Already, though, the producer of vegetables and citrus says he has experienced increased efficiency during land leveling and marking beds.

“The great thing about it is the fuel savings,” Hyatt says of marking vegetable beds. His beds are on 6-foot centers, and he marks four per pass.

“Before, we had to put our tractor tire back in the plow row to keep the distance right. We were only making two new rows per pass. Now we’re getting four rows. With the GPS, we just line up the tractor 6 feet from the last plow mark. It cuts your time in half.”

Hyatt bought the unit originally for its land leveling capabilities. He had been hiring a firm to custom laser level his ground, but found he was on the bottom of the priority list.

Basic GPS units typically have sub-meter accuracy and are designed for uses, such as cultivation and herbicide spraying.

Rather than pay someone else and be tied to their schedule, Hyatt says he decided to make the investment so he could level his ground when he needed to.

Aaron Troyer, general manager of Troyer Brothers Farms near Ft. Myers, also has experienced increased efficiency. For about two years, the operation has been using GPS lightbars on two tractors for field mapping and herbicide spraying.

“When you have larger fields and you have no references, you can kind of wander and meander,” Troyer says of the sprayers.

Before, he says, it wasn’t unusual to have 30 percent to 40 percent sprayer overlap. With the GPS units, that’s been cut to 5 percent to 10 percent.

“You can save on costs [of herbicide] 15 to 20 percent,” he says.

GPS gains popularity

Hyatt and Troyer are two of an untold number of producers in the state who have adopted the satellite-guided technology.

Reza Ehsani, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, says he doesn’t know how many growers in Florida use GPS. But he says he’d like to conduct a survey to gauge adoption of the technology.

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