Precision Agriculture: A 21st Century Solution?

By Nina Gage, VAAFM

“When I came to Vermont 15 years ago, I didn’t think it [precision agriculture] would work here,” said Heather Darby of UVM Extension as she introduced the first speaker of Vermont’s inaugural, Precision Agricultural Forum on Friday, January 19th. Today, the feasibility of precision agricultural equipment in Vermont is a different story. This event was planned and organized by the Franklin and Grand Isle Farmer’s Watershed Alliance (FWA) and held at the St. Albans American Legion.

Having cameras on tractors that can steer the tractor through crop rows, automatic steering with GPS technology, and computer display units that show in real time nutrient or seed application on a field may seem to some like a futuristic space movie, but the truth is, Vermont farmers are using precision agricultural technology and equipment (even if our fields are smaller). “It is a tool for our toolboxes”, said Larry Gervais of Gervais Family Farm, “Something to make us more responsible stewards of the land.”

On average, an operator typically overlaps six to eight feet on every pass, reported Eric Haas from Cazenovia Equipment Co. Autosteering technology can prevent overlap providing huge savings for seed and nutrients in addition to labor and fuel. When used for nutrient application, precision agricultural technology can provide incredibly accurate records of the amount of nutrient applied and where applied in the field. “With the slim margins dairy farmers are working with, precision ag is the direction we are going to have to go,” said Jeff Sanders of UVM Extension.

It isn’t often that a farmer meeting in Franklin, VT would bring so many young people out, but this one sure did. Young people are curious about technology’s role in farming in Vermont. They are the first generation to grow up understanding technology as well as the potential it can provide for farming in Vermont. “[Precision Ag] improves the quality of how we do our job,” said Eric Severy of Matthew’s Trucking who explained that their company operates three precision ag set-ups. “We are mapping everything we do, [as a result] we can precisely place nutrients based on crop removal,” explained Ryan Carabeau of Conant’s Riverside Farm where they operate a dragline system, flow meter technology as well as an Agleader monitoring system.

Crop advisor Paul Stanley claims, “It [precision ag] will benefit the environment and the bottom line.” The biggest question farmers are left to decide is whether or not the initial costs are worth the return on investment.