"We're building a low-cost yet effective system that will
incorporate a hand-held, consumer-available GPS unit, a portable
computer and mapping software such as FarmWorks or ArcPad," said Jay
Solomon, an Extension educator from East Peoria.
The test system
records the application path and when the applicator is on or off. A
background map of the field with buffer (non-application) zones
marked can be pre-loaded into the computer. This provides the
operator with a visual representation of the field and his location
in the field on the computer screen. By watching the screen, the
operator can manually turn off the applicator as a buffer is
approached. Once the applicator is outside of the buffer area, the
operator can then turn the system back on.
Ultimately, the goal is for the system to use the data from the
Global Positioning System unit to sense when to turn the applicator
off and on automatically when approaching non-application zones,
such as near a stream or well.
Researchers also want to put a flow meter in the system to
collect flow data for liquid manure.
"We're working with a producer who has a flow meter and a GPS
unit on a tractor, and we're trying to build the components to go
between them," said Solomon.
The "where" and "how much" data that's collected from this system
will generate as-applied maps for producers, animal waste haulers,
individuals who do custom application or bigger producers who use
their own equipment.
While there are other systems on the market that are capable of
this type of data collection, Solomon said they are extremely
cost-prohibitive. Some of the high-precision units can cost upwards
of $20,000. Although Solomon does not yet have a final price on the
data collection system being tested, he believes that producers can
achieve results similar to the high-precision equipment for
$2,500, a much smaller investment.
Because many of the newer tractors come with a GPS unit already
on board, Solomon said another option is to find a way to tap into
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"But we're mainly looking at a system for the producer who wants
to use an older tractor," said Solomon. "Most of the time, farmers
aren't going to use their brand-new equipment to apply manure. So
we're looking at a way to put consumer-available technology on an
older tractor to collect the data."
Solomon said this type of data will give producers an accurate
record of manure application from year to year that can then become
a piece of their geographic information system documentation.
"The more information farmers can get into a GIS format, the
better able they are to analyze a yield problem or variation across
the field," said Solomon. "Was it caused by drainage patterns? Was
it a weed or an insect problem? Or was it fertilizer?"
Solomon said that although the system's primary function is to
provide the producer with useful information, it is also helpful
from a regulatory standpoint, because stricter government
regulations are holding producers increasingly accountable for their
manure management practices.
"What if a neighbor files a complaint against a farmer with the
EPA because manure was applied in a waterway or close to a well?"
asked Solomon. "Instead of pulling out a hand-drawn map that's got
some numbers scribbled on the side, the producer can go to the
computer, pull up records and say 'Here's how much I applied and
here's where I put it.'"
Solomon said that much of what has been learned about mapping
manure applications can be applied to other, similar systems, such
as chemical spraying.
"We may be starting with manure," Solomon said, "but once we get
the system worked out, there will be any number of ways we can use
of Illinois news release]