By Jennifer Whittaker, Georgia Farm Bureau
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has introduced the Promoting Precision Agriculture Act with Sen. John Thune (R-SD), to create a federal working group to establish interconnectivity standards that would allow farmers to share precision ag data between different brands of farm equipment. Warnock and Thune are working to get their bill included in the 2023 farm bill.
“My bill directs the formation of a task force to develop connectivity standards for different brands of precision ag technology equipment like we have for cell phones,” Warnock said. “We’ve also got to get the rural broadband piece right. You’ve got to have good rural broadband connection for this equipment to work at its optimum capability. This will not only help farmers but will also help rural communities in general.”
In April Warnock visited the UGA Iron Horse Farm near Watkinsville to see UGA precision agriculture technology research. Warnock also met with Athens-area farmers to discuss how they use precision ag.
Tommy Crowe said he uses precision ag equipment to determine the rates at which fertilizer, water and crop management chemicals are applied in his pecan orchard.
“We try to get it down to the ounce of giving each tree what it needs,” Crowe said.
Dairy farmer Charlie Sanders said his family uses precision technology to produce forage crops and mix customized rations for their cows based on their health and metabolic needs.
Diversified row crop farmer Lee Nunn, who has used precision ag technology for 10 years, estimates it has helped him decrease the fertilizer he applies to his fields by at least 15% and decrease irrigation water applied to his crops 20 to 25%.
“Most of my equipment has some sort of precision ag technology on it whether it’s auto steer or data collection,” Nunn said. “Precision ag technology helps me use minimum inputs to grow my crops.”
Beef producer Caroline Lewallen suggested the next farm bill include language to provide grants or low interest loans to make existing camera technology that grades beef carcasses more accessible for small rural USDA inspected facilities.
“If these facilities could begin offering grading services, small producers could command higher prices for their beef,” Lewallen said.
Warnock asked the farmers to share challenges they face when using precision technology. All said lack of broadband internet prevents them from using their precision ag equipment at its full potential.
Elsner said the inability of different brands of equipment to “talk” to each other or share data is a hold-up. “If you have an iPhone and I have an android, we can still talk to each other, but it’s not like that when it comes to sharing data between different ag equipment brands.”
Warnock has made improving Georgia’s broadband infrastructure a priority and has secured more than $570 million in federal funds to do this to date. In December, Warnock announced $250 million in American Rescue Funding will be invested in expanding broadband access in Georgia.
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, met with farmers at the UGA Iron Horse Farm in April to discuss precision ag technology. Participating in the roundtable were, clockwise from left, Tommy Crowe, Charlie Sanders, Sen. Warnock, Eric Elsner, Lee Nunn and Caroline Lewallen. / Photo by Jennifer Whittaker