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Space-based research promises farm benefits

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Spatial technologies have provided producers and agribusinesses new methods to manage their crops, animals and land, but the same technologies have also presented a number of challenges, including how to manage the information generated.

Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station scientists are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help growers face these problems.

Working under the auspices of the USDA-funded Advanced Spatial Technologies in Agriculture project, a group of 20 MAFES scientists is exploring how best to use spatial information in the areas of soil fertility, pest management, and animal and aquaculture production. Members of this group are also developing engineering technologies that will improve accuracy and facilitate automation in these systems.

Spatial technology refers to the capability to manage smaller areas of ground than traditional technology has allowed.

"Traditionally, we've managed field sizes in acres or hundreds of acres, but spatial technology has allowed the management of portions of acres," said David Laughlin, MAFES agricultural economist and ASTA project coordinator.

Laughlin said the scientists have evaluated their progress and the progress of their peers, and they have identified future research priorities and directions.

The ASTA project has grown from an initial set of eight subprojects in 1997, which was the first year of funding, to more than 20 projects in 2001. Over its five-year history, the project has brought more than $3.5 million in federal grants to Mississippi State University and provided leveraging for other funds.

"Spatial technologies have changed the face of agriculture," Laughlin said.

At MSU, scientists are using remote sensing, yield monitors and global positioning systems, and geographic information systems technologies to address agribusiness needs and to assist with decision making in precision farming and natural resource management.

"The ASTA project addresses the breadth of issues facing our producers in this state, but the results of this research will also apply to other areas of the country," he said.

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