Clyde High students Scott Whitt, Josh Churchill, Bill Waugaman, and David Krumnow, clockwise from bottom, surround a four-wheeler mounted with the global-positioning system and satellite receiver.
CLYDE, Ohio - Scott Whitt's parents are livestock farmers who use no pesticides or other chemicals on their alfalfa fields.
The Clyde High School junior, who hopes to have his own hog farm someday, said he favors a natural approach to farming, but he's part of a class that's learning how to use satellite technology to improve soil quality and crop yields.
“To tell the truth, I'd rather do it the old-school way,” Scott said. “It's easier. But this is what the world's turning into, so you might as well get used to it.”
Besides, he added, “you've got to know it or you'll never get a job. You can't live off farming alone nowadays.”
Using a global-positioning system and computer software, Scott and six other students in the agriculture business class are mapping farm fields to pinpoint which areas need nutrients, and how much.
Class members steer an all-terrain vehicle around the perimeter of a field. From the vehicle, which is equipped with a GPS receiver and a laptop computer, students divide the field into a grid of squares.
They then mark points in the squares, which can be from half an acre to five acres, and take soil samples. The samples are analyzed at a lab, and the students enter the results in a computer to create color-coded maps that show the levels of pH (acidity), phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, and organic matter.
Next, students analyze the map to determine how much lime or other fertilizer each area of the grid needs and enter that data onto a computer disc.
The disc can be used in a computer-equipped applicator, which will vary the amount of fertilizer, based on soil conditions.
Barrett Zimmerman, who teaches the class, said the idea is to avoid overfertilizing some areas and underfertilizing others. Traditionally, farmers have treated entire fields with the same amount of fertilizer.
“What we started figuring out is, we've got in that one field probably six different types of soil,” he said, pointing to the screen of a dirt-smudged laptop in the school's agricultural education room.
“At this corner of the field, it might need 50 pounds, in the middle it might need 75 pounds, and somewhere else it might need 100 pounds,” the teacher continued. “So what have I done if I've just put 100 pounds on that field? I've wasted money and put down a chemical some places where it didn't need to be.”
The points plotted with the GPS system allow a farmer to return to the exact same spot months or years later.
“That's the key to this,” Mr. Zimmerman said.
A farmer can use that ability to monitor a plot's crop yields or test its soil for moisture content, weeds, or rocks.
Thanks to a $10,000 grant from Archer Daniels Midland, the school will take soil samples for three years. The school, in conjunction with the Vanguard Sentinel Career Center in Fremont, spent $35,000 for the GPS and computer equipment.
For the agribusiness students, it's a worthwhile investment, Mr. Zimmerman said.
By taking the class this year, agronomy and biology classes next year, and a soil science course at Terra Community College, the Clyde students will earn almost half of the credits toward a two-year business degree at Terra, he said.
They'll also be qualified to obtain a commercial driver's license and certification to buy farm chemicals.
Noe Barrientos, a junior, said the high-tech program will help him toward his goal of owning a farm or working in agribusiness. “We're the only school that has this stuff and is studying it,” he said. “When I go get a job, I'll know more than the basics.”
Students get year-round technology and growing experience at the Miller Conservation Farm in Seneca County. After a long winter, they're eager to get back to tending soybean and wheat fields.
In the meantime, the class is using the GPS technology to help local farmers. Yesterday, the students measured a field covered with green winter wheat sprouts for its owner, Gary Davenport, Sr.
Scott Whitt steered the red four-wheeler around the perimeter of the oddly shaped field, peering at a monitor as he drove. The survey revealed the field's size to be 8.44 acres, smaller than Mr. Davenport's guess of nine acres.
“When you've got a field that's laid out like that, with ditches and curves, it's hard to estimate,” the farmer said.
Mr. Davenport's son, Gary, said the technology will be a boon to farmers, and the students studying it. “It's good experience for them, because you've got to stay on technology, or you ain't going to make it,” he said.
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