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Technology helps farmers

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January 3, 2007

Tifton - - It's been a work in progress, now it's proved successful. A University of Georgia sponsored project to help farmers better manage crops and conserve water at the same time is taking off nationwide.

You see irrigation systems often in South Georgia, but you probably haven't seen one like this. Variable rate irrigation is a project researchers at the University of Georgia have been developing since 2000.

"Most of our fields are not uniform. If you look at South Georgia from the air, you'll see our fields have a lot of variability, different soil types, multiple crops planted in the field, different elevations," says Engineer Calvin Perry.

The new system allows farmers to control the rate and levels water is spread throughout the field, unlike regular irrigation systems that just spread a blanket amount of water when turned on.

All a farmer has to do is get on his computer and program exactly where he wants the water to spread over his crops. He saves it on a computer chip and places it into the control system. It then knows exactly how to work.

"From that point on, anytime he runs the pivot, the control follows that map, follows his preferences and puts out the water just as he wishes it across the field."

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the college $500,000 to help farmers get the new system on their fields over a three year period. So far 35 have been installed nationwide.

"We've had people in Arkansas, South Carolina, even Nebraska, and Colorado interested in the system because the reason we're applying water in different rates here works the same in other parts of the country."

It's the combination of technology and genius.

"We've moved beyond development of the hardware and now were looking at how to better the application map."

And it's bringing a whole lot of attention to South Georgia. 

Hobbs & Holder is selling the new irrigation systems to farmers. They run around $17,000. Engineers say the Natural Resources Conservation Service has grants available to help defray the costs to farmers.

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