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Farm show to feature GPS seminar, ride and drive

Greyhound may have coined the phrase, but farmers are discovering that satellites hundreds of miles in space can drive tractors plumb line straight without the driver touching the steering wheel.

And satellites and airplanes can take photographs of fields and crops to let farmers know more accurately what is right or wrong with crops.

Salinas Valley and Central Coast farmers will have an opportunity to hear about and personally experience the latest in satellite-guided Global Positioning System (GPS) technology in seminar and a ride and drive section of this year’s Salinas Valley Farm Show scheduled for Oct. 4 at the Salinas Community Center adjacent to the Salinas Rodeo Grounds.

Well-known agricultural engineer and Salinas consultant John Inman has organized the seminar and ride and drive sections, and the retired University of California Cooperative Extension agricultural engineer said two of the major suppliers of GPS technology will have auto guided tractors at the farm show for farmers and consultants to drive.

"AutoFarm based in Menlo Park, Calif., and Australian company Beeline Technology with offices in Fresno, Calif., will have demo tractors ready for show attendees to drive in an area adjacent to the community center," said Inman.

Inman also will host a seminar beginning at 9 a.m. where both of these companies and a satellite mapping company, Ag Soft, will make presentations.

West Hills College representatives also will be on the program talking about the GPS training program offered at the college. They’ll also demonstrate the technology with an ATV equipped with a GPS mapping device as well as another vehicle equipped with a GPS guided sprayer.

With the automatically steered tractors, an on-board computer receives signals from orbiting satellites. The computer is connected to the tractor’s steering system, guiding it precisely down the field without the driver touching the wheel except to turn at the end of the row.

These computers also log the field operation as well as other data from the field.

"This technology has been on the market less than a year, and farmers are beginning to ask for it," said Inman.

Farm show chairman and custom applicator Don Ostini said the accuracy of GPS-guided tractors is getting noticed.

"The uniformity with GPS is amazing. It eliminates the guess row and allows producers to use any implement, regardless of the number or rows, for listing, cultivating or planting, regardless of the number of rows covers," said Ostini.

Its accuracy goes beyond the mechanical, according to Inman.

"For example, GPS will allow you to accurately apply a narrow, two-inch herbicide band. That kind of precision means savings in time and material plus reduced environmental impact," said Inman.

And, because GPS technology can operate in any condition, farmers can work fields in the fog or even at night.

"This is important today because of the capital intensive fixed costs growers have," said Inman. ‘You keep your fixed costs down by covering as much acreage as possible with a tractor and implements."

Satellites and aircraft are also used to map fields and companies providing those services also will exhibit at the farm show sponsored by Gonzales Young Farmers.

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